WASHINGTON -- A Wisconsin law that made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to have their day in court was repealed on Thursday, after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) quietly signed the bill.
The 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act was meant to deter employers from discriminating against certain groups by giving workers more avenues via which to press charges. Among other provisions, it allows individuals to plead their cases in the less costly, more accessible state circuit court system, rather than just in federal court.
In November, the state Senate approved SB 202, which rolled back this provision. On February, the Assembly did the same. Both were party-line votes in Republican-controlled chambers.
SB 202 was sent to Walker on March 29. He had, according to the state constitution, six days to act on the bill. The deadline was 5:00 p.m. on Thursday. The governor quietly signed the bill into law on Thursday, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, and it is now called Act 219.
Walker's office did not return repeated requests for comment.
State Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee), the authors of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act, criticized Walker on Thursday for not informing the public of his actions on SB 202.
“We are finally starting to see progress here in Wisconsin, yet like their counterparts across the country, Legislative Republicans want to turn back the clock on women’s rights in the workplace,” said Hansen.
Women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men make. In Wisconsin, it's 75 cents, according to the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health (WAWH), which also estimates that families in the state "lose more than $4,000 per year due to unequal pay."
Business associations lobbied in support of SB 202, according to the state's Government Accountability Board. Groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the Wisconsin Restaurant Association all backed a repeal.
Sara Finger, executive director of WAWH, said that the repeal was a "demoralizing attack on women’s rights, health, and wellbeing."
"Economic security is a women’s health issue," she said. "The salary women are paid directly affects the type and frequency of health care services they are able to access. At a time when women’s health services are becoming more expensive and harder to obtain, financial stability is essential to maintain steady access."
Walker is facing a recall election in June. The two frontrunners on the Democratic side who are competing to unseat him, former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, sharply criticized the governor for allowing the repeal bill to become law.
Falk said Walker has "turned back the clock for women across Wisconsin."
"As a woman and as a mother who worked full-time while raising my son, I know first-hand how important pay equity and health care are to women across Wisconsin," she said in a statement to The Huffington Post.
A spokesman for Barrett's campaign said that Walker's "ideological civil war includes a war on women, and repeal today of this protection against pay discrimination is a major step backwards for Wisconsin values and basic fairness."
"Tom Barrett knows equal pay for equal work is essential, and failing to stand up for Wisconsin women in the workplace is yet another reason he [Walker] must be defeated this summer," he said.
UPDATE: 2:17 p.m. -- The Plum Line reports that President Barack Obama's campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith responded to Walker's repeal, calling on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, to take a position on the issue.
"As he campaigned across Wisconsin, Mitt Romney repeatedly praised Governor Scott Walker's leadership, calling him a 'hero' and 'a man of courage,'" she said. "But with his signing yesterday of a bill make it harder for women to enforce in court their right to equal pay, Walker showed how far Republicans are willing to go to undermine not only women's health care, but also their economic security. Does Romney think women should have ability to take their bosses to court to get the same pay as their male coworkers? Or does he stand with Governor Walker against this?"