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A proposal to allow workers to communicate about their wages, without fear of reprisal, advanced Thursday to a second round of debate.

The bill (LB217), introduced by Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, prohibits an employer from retaliating against any worker for asking about, discussing, or disclosing salary information in order to find out whether the employer is paying workers the same for equal work.

The goal of the bill is to help close the pay gap between men and women, Pansing Brooks said. 

The bill is similar to one introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer in the U.S. Senate, she said. Her Workplace Advancement Act would prevent punitive action against employees who seek or share wage information.

It's important, Pansing Brooks said, because women continue to earn considerably less than men for doing the same work. In Nebraska, women earn 77 cents for every $1 earned by men, she said. African-American women earn 65.5 cents for every $1, and Latina women earn 57.5 cents on the dollar, and Native women earn 44.7 cents.

Projections show the wage gap in Nebraska, continuing at the current rate, would not be closed until 2066. 

"Women are almost half the work force and receive more college and graduate degrees than men," she said. 

The Business and Labor Committee amended the bill to change enforcement from the Department of Labor to the Nebraska Equal Opportunity Commission. And it removed language limiting the purpose for discussing wages to equal pay for equal work.

Opposing the bill at a committee hearing were the National Federation of Independent Business, the Nebraska Grocery Industry Association, the Nebraska Retail Federation and the Nebraska Restaurant Association.

The bill advanced on a 27-3 vote, with Sens. Joni Albrecht, Robert Clements and John Lowe voting no.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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