Rep. Roupe, victim of pay inequity, gives pay commission bipartisan support

Republican state Rep. Kit Roupe was one of the most vocal opponents of continuing Colorado’s Pay Equity Commission, but not because she doubts that women too often are paid less than men.

Gender-based pay inequity has been a recurring national conversation for more than a half-century. Today, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts Colorado behind the national average when it comes to resolving the “pay gap.” Colorado women make 77.9 cents on their male counterpart’s dollar, down from over 80 cents in preceding years. The national average is 82 cents on the dollar.

“I resemble the person we’re trying to study,” Roupe said on the House floor, opposing a Democratic bill to keep the Pay Equity Commission up and running. “In 2011, I discovered, after leaving my company, that I was making $20,000 less annually doing a professional job. The commission was nowhere to be seen.”

Colorado’s Pay Equity Commission was initially set up in 2010 to study the best practices around closing the pay gap and to actively share those findings with the state legislature and the Colorado business community. Due to a Republican vote in the Senate earlier this session, it’s scheduled to expire this summer. Many lawmakers who voted to shut down the commission expressed doubt that the pay gap is in fact real. Roupe, on the other hand, expressed concerns about how the 11-member volunteer board was set up, particularly because it never managed to recommended legislation.

“For five years this commission has been in existence and yet we’ve seen a widening pay gap,” said Roupe who’s from Colorado Springs and serves on the House business committee where she voted against the measure in hearing. “So I have to wonder about it’s credibility … It’s not that a pay commission is not a good idea, it’s how effectively it’s representing women.”

And yet, after her initial strong opposition to continuing the commission and her no-vote in both the 13-person business committee, Roupe broke party ranks in the final House vote and supported keeping the board up and running.

Why the flip?

“I just thought we should keep the conversation going,” Roupe told The Independent. “I got a lot of comments about it, but that’s why.”

“She’s right, the commission is the only place where the conversation about equal pay is continuing,” said Rep. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, who sponsored the bill to keep the commission going after Senate Republicans voted to let it fold this summer.

In response to critiques from Roupe and others, Danielson’s bill would make some changes to the unfunded commission. If the Senate follows Roupe’s lead and supports the measure, the commission would gain a grant-funded, full-time staffer to ensure the members are able to make actual policy recommendations towards narrowing the pay gap in Colorado.

“Whether or not folks thought the commission was perfect is somewhat irrelevant because you can’t improve upon their work unless it exists,” Danielson said. “And, if we don’t continue to talk about the problem of pay inequity and how to solve it, we won’t move on.”

Graphic by Mike Licht

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