Texas Governor Rick Perry has some bad news for Texas women. On Friday afternoon, the one-time presidential hopeful notified legislators that Texas would not join the federal government and 42 other states that have addressed gender-based wage discrimination. Their bill, which installs state-level legal protections similar to those enacted by the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, had a lot of momentum before reaching Perry's desk. Last month the legislation, along with two separate amendements, cleared both of the state's chambers, and it would have made Texas the 43rd state in the Union to have passed such legislation.
Perry's rationale for vetoing the first bill is a bit fuzzy. The Houston Chronicle points out that the governor's staff members have argued that the legislation is unnecessary due to the the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, but have refused to speak to reporters when evidence to the contrary is presented. According to The Huffington Post, HB 950 allows litigants alleging wage discrimination to use a state court instead of a federal court (which tends to be a lot more convenient for plaintiffs) and plugs certain holes left open by the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act at the state level. Perry has yet to announce his reasoning behind the veto, which he confirmed to the staff members of two state representatives who sponsored the bill.
The decision to veto places Perry in a vulnerable position against progressive critics who have, rather successfully, situated him and his Republican peers in their "war on women" narrative, which asserts that GOP politicians use their power to marginalize and disempower women. Perry and his staff have worked hard to counter this narrative, as evidenced by a glowing New York Times profile from January that highlights the plurality of women on his staff. (Perry's chief of staff until February was female — a feat yet to be matched by Democratic President Barack Obama, who signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act on his ninth day of office but has hired only white men to fill the White House Chief of Staff.) Nor will Perry's veto rally his fellow Republicans, many of whom believe the pay gap between men and women is a myth invented to unfairly cast Republicans as sexist. After all, Perry did not go out of his way to attack the bill's basic premise.
Indeed, the governor seems to have focused his energy elsewhere: on the same day he vetoed the wage discrimination bill Perry signed another bill mandating that certain Texans seeking unemployment benefits be tested for illegal drugs.