SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said Wednesday he plans to introduce legislation this session requiring equal pay for equal work because it's time the government stepped in to ensure women earn the same as men in the same job.
"I cannot for the life of me find any conservative argument that makes any rational sense of why a woman would be paid less for the same work as a man in the same job," he said. "This isn't something we should be running away from."
Anderegg said the issue hits home because he is the father of three daughters, ages 6, 7 and 15.
"I don't know any father who can look his daughter in the eye and say with a straight face, 'You know what? You should get paid three-fourths of what your brother's going to get paid.' Really?" he said. "But we haven't taken any steps."
Utah is one of six states without an equal pay law, although there is a general employment discrimination law in place, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The first-term senator, who previously served in the House, said he opened a bill file Wednesday and is still working out details, although he intends to focus on ensuring men and woman are paid equally during their first three years of employment.
Anderegg said allowing the free market to correct pay differences hasn't worked. Utah women earn 71.1 cents for every dollar made by men, ranking 48th out of 50 states, a study by the National Women's Law Center found.
"We've gone now 30 years, and we really haven't had that great of an improvement. So I think government sometimes does need to establish the thresholds we should set in society," Anderegg said.
He said he's still working out the details, but fair-market benchmarks need to be established using state-collected data, "and then quite literally, the requirement would be you must pay equally for starting within the first three years."
Anderegg said he also wants to look at how performance evaluations figure into setting salaries. He said he doesn't envision the government actively regulating pay, but would give those who felt they were treated unfairly a legal cause of action.
"This may result in more lawsuits," the senator said. "It will be illegal."
Anderegg acknowledged he has work to do to win over his fellow conservatives in the GOP-controlled Senate and House.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said he believes there shouldn't be a pay difference based on gender. "If you're doing the job, you should get paid for the job," he said.
But Niederhauser said part of the reason government hasn't gotten involved in the issue is that lawmakers and their constituents tend to be "resistant to forcing people to do certain things. And that is what it would take."
Still, he said, it may be time to take a look.
"I think it would be great to get to a point where you could find maybe a little bit better balance with that, that there's more gender equality with what you get paid," the Senate leader said. "I think it will get a fair hearing."
Not on board with Anderegg's bill is Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who is drafting legislation to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. In the 1970s, the amendment failed to win support in enough states, including Utah, to become part of the U.S. Constitution.
"There's more to equality for our daughters and our wives and our sisters than pay. Why would we want to limit it?" Dabakis said. "It's not good enough. Why are we compromising with giving equality to both sexes?"
Jason Perry, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said he believes the equal pay issue will get some consideration this session.
"There’s no defense for us to be in a state where there is not a guarantee that there is equal pay for equal work," Perry said. "To see a conservative Republican looking at it is a good sign."
Anderegg said he's been thinking about sponsoring such legislation for some time, buth the Utah Women's March that saw thousands of demonstrators pouring into the Capitol on Monday gave him a push.
"It was impressive to see the sheer number of women that came up on the first day of the session. And I don't agree with everything they were marching for," he said, citing his opposition to abortion as an example.
"But this is one I've struggled with personally because it doesn't make sense to me. When something doesn't make sense to me, I start asking the question why, and when there isn't a solid reason I can find, I have to say, 'This is fundamentally wrong.'"