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Trump era opens in New Jersey with blocked pay equity bill

January 28, 2017

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — One day after more than 1 million people participated in women’s marches across the globe in protest of President Donald Trump, New Jersey Republicans blocked a measure that would have strengthened a state law requiring employers to pay women the same as men for equal work.

Democrats tried to override Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of the gender pay equity bill but couldn’t overcome resistance from Republican lawmakers, who are feeling increasingly emboldened under Trump.

Republican state Sen. Michael Doherty, a Trump supporter, said in an interview that too many men in politics are “walking on eggshells” and that everyone, himself included, is against pay discrimination, which is why it’s already illegal.

“I think we feel emboldened by President Trump and some of his victories,” Doherty said. “There’s way too much politics here. Nobody is supporting a wage gap. Even to bring that up gets you labeled as a hater.”

Christie last year rejected the legislation, which would have allowed women the right to sue for treble damages and to look back over the entire length of their employment when seeking damages. It would have also required employers to file regular reports with the state. Christie argued that New Jersey’s anti-discrimination law already bans gender-based discrimination.

The bill’s supporters say the measure is necessary because women earn about 80 cents on the dollar compared to men for equal work in New Jersey, a fact that opponents dispute.

The blocked override of Christie’s veto came just a day after over 1 million people participated in women’s marches across the globe, decrying the new president with slogans calling him a bigot and a sexist and after reports that Trump was upset about the media’s “biased” coverage of the protests.

This is not the first time Republicans have thwarted a Democratic override attempt, but it’s the first since Trump took office. It also comes as Democrats across the country try to regroup after their unexpected national defeat last November. New Jersey Democrats in particular are looking ahead to winning the governor’s mansion in November as well as congressional contests in 2018.

Not all Republicans voted against the override for the same reasons. Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. said he preferred to work on a compromise. Republican state Sen. Bob Singer said Democrats didn’t reach out to him to get his support. Two Republicans sided with Democrats.

In the bill’s debate, Democratic Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg said the legislation is necessary to provide “teeth” to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Other Democrats said they hoped the sight of thousands marching across the state would convince them the legislation was needed. Some even expressed disgust the failure to override the veto.

“We’re worried about businesses moving to this state (but) quite frankly I’m worried about raising my daughter in this state,” Democratic state Sen. Teresa Ruiz said.

Weinberg said she plans to push for another override attempt in the coming months.

Voters in Doherty’s district, which tends to be conservative and includes parts of northern New Jersey along the Delaware River, were unaware of the statehouse back-and-forth, but saw the debate in the context of Trump’s new administration.

Karen Savacool, 61, of Lebanon, said she was a Hillary Clinton supporter in the election and her message to lawmakers now that Trump is in power is to focus on dire issues, like infrastructure, the nationwide opioid epidemic as well as gender pay equity. What’s important is for government to have a positive impact, she said.

“I’m trying to be positive about the new administration,” she said. “I do want it to work because a lot of people are suffering or scared and want America to work better.”