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Sen. Jean-Paul Morrell, D-New Orleans, seen here in 2017

State lawmakers have again rejected an effort to set a minimum wage in Louisiana, for the first time, that is higher than the federal rate.

Then the state Senate rejected legislation meant to address pay disparities between men and women.

The proposal to ultimately increase minimum hourly pay to $8.50 was shot down in a 17-21 vote Tuesday after a brief discussion of Senate Bill 162. Minimum-wage workers in Louisiana make the federal $7.25 an hour rate.

"What I'm asking for today is a very modest increase — $1.25 over two years," said Sen. Troy Carter, a New Orleans Democrat who has unsuccessfully sponsored minimum-wage legislation for the past three years. "We are all Louisianians, and there is not a single one of us in this chamber — not one — that doesn't have people in our district that would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage."

SB162 would have automatically increased the minimum wage to $8 an hour in 2019 and $8.50 an hour in 2020. A separate bill from Carter that has not made it to the Senate floor, Senate Bill 252, would allow voters to decide whether the minimum wage should be increased to those levels.

"Minimum wage is an issue we've all talked about for a long time in this chamber," Carter said.

Influential business interest groups, including the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and the National Federation of Independent Businesses, have opposed attempts to increase the minimum wage in Louisiana, arguing that it takes decision-making abilities from business owners.

The minimum wage went up in 18 other states at the start of 2018, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The previous year, 19 states saw minimum wage hikes.

Louisiana is one of five remaining states that automatically default to the federal level because they have never adopted their own state minimum wage laws.

Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, campaigned on advocating a minimum wage increase and has put the issue on his legislative agenda for this session and two previous.

“Unfortunately, the full Senate missed an opportunity to stand up for working Louisianans who overwhelmingly support a modest, but meaningful increase the minimum wage” Edwards said in a statement Tuesday. “Not advancing this legislation is a step backwards for our families and our children who live in poverty but want to work."

Edwards has said he believes Congress has not increased the minimum wage in nearly a decade because the federal government is relying on states to tailor the rate to their own circumstances.

"Thousands of Louisianians are struggling to live off of $7.25 an hour, and unfortunately, while the cost of living has increased over the years, their wages have not," Edwards said.

The state Senate on Tuesday also rejected legislation meant to address pay disparities between men and women — another priority and campaign issue for Edwards.

The Senate voted 18-20 against Senate Bill 117, which would require any company that contracts with the state to comply with the Equal Pay Law that currently applies to state workers.

The chamber then quickly voted down a separate bill also aimed at equitable pay that would have protected employees from being fired just because they discuss pay. That vote was 15-23.

"We passed (the existing) bill because we said public dollars should be held to a higher standard," said Sen. J.P. Morrell, a New Orleans Democrat who sponsored the bill to extend the state employment requirements to contractors.

He argued that companies worried about having to comply with the requirement are not obligated to contract with the state.

"If you do choose to do work with the state of Louisiana, this is another requirement you will have to meet," he said.

His bill would have set up an administrative grievance process for complaints.

But lawmakers said they worried implementation of such a law could create onerous regulations on businesses.

Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, said he worried it would be up to interpretation whether people are performing similar work or have similar qualifications and said it could tie employers hands in business decisions. He described a hypothetical situation of an employee being approached by a competitor with a higher paying job offer. To keep that employee, the employer would have to ensure that others received pay hikes, even if they were not also being poached.

"Anybody who doesn't want to adhere to this can figure out a way to get around it," he said.

Morrell said he saw the so-called "pay secrecy" bill that later failed as a small gesture toward equal-pay efforts. It offered no assurance for employees to get pay increases to address disparities, but Morrell argued that if employees could discuss pay with their coworkers then they could discover how they compare and whether they should look for jobs elsewhere.

"I'm trying to reach you where you are at. I don't even think I can begin to express my disappointment that we aren't even here yet," Morrell said.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.