Montana House passes ‘transparency’ bill intended to bridge gender pay gap

Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston

(UM Legislative News Service) A bill allowing Montana workers to freely discuss their wages passed the state House of Representatives on Thursday, marking the first time an equal pay bill has cleared a chamber under Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.

Although two-thirds of the original bill was stricken, House Bill 547’s sponsor, Rep. Laurie Bishop, D-Livingston, said she doesn’t think amendments made in the House Business and Labor Committee devalued the bill.

The committee removed the requirements for employers to post wage information, for example, and eliminated a section specifically prohibiting employers from “formally or informally” disciplining employees who disclose or discuss their wages with one another.

As approved Thursday, the bill says an employer may not require as a condition of employment or application for employment that a worker:

  • provide information regarding past wages, benefits, or other salary history;
  • refrain from disclosing, discussing, or sharing information about the amount of the individual’s wages, benefits, or other compensation or from inquiring, discussing, or sharing information about another employee’s wages, benefits, or other compensation if that other employee voluntarily disclosed the information; or
  • sign a waiver or other document agreeing not to disclose the amount of the employee’s own wages, benefits, or other compensation or to inquire about or discuss with others information about another employee’s wages, benefits, or other compensation if that other employee voluntarily disclosed the information.

“It still retains a lot of the intention of the bill,” Bishop said. “And the intention is to help to close the wage gap for women. But this is a protection that can benefit all employees.”

The bill was introduced on behalf of the Equal Pay Task Force, which Bullock established in 2013 to study the gender pay gap in Montana. Bullock said the task force has worked hard to make sure the bill is an effective step in solving a complicated issue.  

“But it’s so great to see Democrats and Republicans come together to recognize some of the barriers of getting rid of that pay disparity,” Bullock said. “It’s another one of these challenges that we have dealt with for 60 years, so it’s not going to be solved overnight. But I’m certainly pleased with the steps that have been taken.”

The bill passed with a vote of 52-47 Thursday and is moving to the Senate.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.