BOSTON (State House News Service) – Expressing confidence that the issue will be addressed this legislative session, about two dozen legislators joined a variety of women’s rights groups in supporting a bill on Tuesday that aims to eliminate the wage gap for women and people of color.

According to organizers, the Act to Establish Pay Equity demands equal pay for comparable work done by men and women, establishes pay transparency, and requires fairness in hiring practices around wages.

“This bill provides important tools that will actually close the gender pay gap,” Nina Kimball of the Women’s Bar Association said. “Massachusetts is a leader in this and this bill is going to make our current statute more effective.”

The bill (H 1733, S 983) clarifies terminology in the current statute to better define “comparable work,” outlaws employers from forbidding employees to discuss their salary with other employees, and requires employers to include the minimum the job pays when advertising a position. It also extends the time a worker has to file a claim of wage discrimination from one year to three.

“Equal pay for equal work should be a no-brainer,” Sen. Karen Spilka said at a State House rally before a Labor and Workforce Development Committee hearing on the bills. “Women working hard to support their families deserve fair pay. It’s time for action to bridge the gender wage gap and ensure equal pay. It is time for equality and opportunity for all women.”

Spilka said a majority of members of the House have co-sponsored the bill, which Sen. Pat Jehlen, who introduced the bill on the Senate side, called a “positive sign … that we are going to do this this year.”

According to the Massachusetts chapter of the National Organization for Women, women who work full-time earn approximately 80.8 percent of what men who work full-time earn, and lose a combined total of approximately $12.2 billion annually due to the wage gap.

A recent study from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research reported that the state’s earnings ratio places Massachusetts in 18th place nationally for pay equity and, without changes, the state’s wage gap is expected to persist until 2058.

“We’re behind other states, we’re behind our own values and we’re behind where we should be,” Attorney General Maura Healey said. “We need to do better, we must do better, not just for women but for families across the state.”

Healey noted that Massachusetts was the first state in the country to pass a law requiring equal pay for equal work, what she called “a simple concept.”

“Unfortunately, 70 years later, we have not achieved that equality. Women remain subject to barriers and discrimination at work, unequal pay and barriers to advancement,” Healey said. “The Equal Pay Act simply has not worked. It has not been an effective tool for combating and addressing wage inequality. This bill…makes some critical updates to the law.”

State Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, who recently created an advisory committee on wage equality to address the gap, also spoke in support of the pay equity bill and added that the wage gap is even greater for African-American or Latino women. According to Goldberg, African-American women and Latino women earn 61 cents and 50 cents on the dollar when compared to white men.

“Wage equality is not just a women’s issue,” Goldberg said. “It’s a family issue and it’s an economic imperative that affects the health and well-being of our entire state.”

Business owners spoke to the economic impacts of the discrepancy in wages between men and women.

“The mere fact that women, in a lifetime, are leaving $1.7 million on the table because of the wage gap shows that this is a serious issue,” Kip Hollister, president and CEO of Hollister Staffing, said, noting money is being held out of the local and state economy.

Natasha Lamb, director of equity research and shareholder engagement at Arjuna Capital, said pay equity is not just a social justice issue, but “a case where doing the right thing is also doing the smart thing for business.”

The Labor and Workforce Development Committee had an executive session scheduled for after the public testimony portion of the hearing, potentially to report on some bills before the committee. Sen. Dan Wolf, co-chair of the committee, said he expected the hearing to last into Tuesday evening.Copyright 2015 State House News Service