The Equal Pay for Women Act passed the La. Senate Wednesday by a 23-13 vote (Roll Call), but not until after a key amendment was added. It was an amendment that met with opposition from the bill's author, but allowed for this " hav(ing) an equal playing field for men and women in all employment," according to Julie Harris with the Legislative Agenda for Women.

The amendment, offered by Lafayette Senator Page Cortez (R), changed the original legislation, authored by New Orleans Senator Edwin Murray (D), from lessening the gender pay gap for both public and private workers to only include female government employees.

Despite this amendment limiting what Harris and others wanted, Harris says that "equal playing field" is their goal and that "we are happy that the bill recognizes the need to work on the issue of equal pay."

Harris points to current statistics that say Louisiana women make $.69 to the dollar that men make for similar work. "It's high time for Louisiana to take steps that 40 other states have taken to pass equal pay legislation," says Harris. "Louisiana is at the bottom in the ratio of what women earn on average to men...If this is the step we need to take to start, we want to take it."

This is an issue that women's rights groups, along with democratic lawmakers, are fighting for. Harris says they are facing opposition from the business community. "Businesses are afraid, and we don't want them to be afraid," says Harris. "We know that good business practices can be substantiated by this bill. What it will do is actually help the economy of the state to have women paid fairly...We do not have adequate protections in state law."

Among the lawmakers that voted for the bill include Lafayette and surrounding parish members Sen. Cortez and Sen. Elbert Guillory (D) of Opelousas. Among lawmakers that voted against the amended bill include Lafayette and surrounding parish members Sen. Dan "Blade" Morrish (R) of Jennings, Sen. Ronnie Johns (R) of Lake Charles and Sen. Jonathan Perry of Kaplan.

The measure now heads to the La. House for approval.