The candidates for governor sparred over separate issues Tuesday, with Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis insisting that her opponent won’t commit to solidifying gender pay equality into state law and Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott firing back that Davis’ Fort Worth law firm may have profited from her work in the Legislature.
Davis co-sponsored a bill last year to ensure that Texas law mirrored gender wage protections in the 2009 federal Lilly Ledbetter Act. The measure passed with bipartisan support, but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it, saying federal statutes made state law on the subject repetitive.
Davis rejects that argument, saying a state law would allow women more flexibility to sue in state courts and avoid lengthier and costlier federal discrimination cases.
Abbott, meanwhile, says separate state statutes already prohibit gender discrimination. He has refused to say whether he would veto a similar state Ledbetter Act as governor.
“Greg Abbott is all about keeping Texas in the past,” Davis said Tuesday during a media conference call.
She said 400,000 Texas households are headed by women and cited 2012 Census data showing that women statewide are paid roughly 82 cents for every $1 that men receive for comparable work.
The issue flared up after Abbott gave an interview to WFAA/Channel 8 in Dallas and was asked about equal-pay protections. He cited other state laws prohibiting gender discrimination and said that, as governor, he’d expect women to receive equal pay but didn’t say whether he’d veto a state law as Perry did.
Davis agreed that a separate state statute forbids gender discrimination but said Texas laws gives women only six months from the beginning of their employment to sue for not receiving equal pay. Many employees don’t find out what their co-workers are paid until much later.
Under the federal Ledbetter Act, the statute of limitations in federal cases doesn’t begin until a woman discovers the pay discrimination.
Davis highlighted a 2011 case in which a professor at Prairie View A&M University sued the state over discriminatory pay and Abbott defended the state as Texas’ top lawyer. Although the Ledbetter Act had changed federal law, the Texas Supreme Court dismissed the case on statute-of-limitations grounds, saying the new federal law didn’t alter state requirements.
“What this shows is that current law clearly does not offer enough protection for women and a Texas Lilly Ledbetter Act is desperately needed,” Davis said.
Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch declined to comment on the issue Tuesday. Instead, he released a statement criticizing Davis’ Fort Worth law firm for representing public-sector clients as she worked in the Legislature and runs for governor.
Last week, Davis released a list of her public-sector clients, including the North Texas Tollway Authority, even as she voted on toll road legislation.
“Senator Davis was sent to Austin to work on behalf of Texans, but it appears the person who profited the most is Senator Davis,” Hirsch said.
Davis has denied any conflicts of interest.