- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Louisiana Democratic Party will push state lawmakers to broaden last year’s equal pay legislation, to raise the state’s minimum wage and to expand the Medicaid program as allowed under the federal health law, the chair of the party said Monday.

State Sen. Karen Carter Peterson framed the party’s goals for the upcoming regular session that begins March 10 as ideas that would help working Louisianians.

But the proposals face strong GOP opposition, and both the state House and Senate are majority Republican. Similar measures have been rejected in previous years.

“This is going to be an uphill battle from start to finish, but we know we’re on the right side of these issues,” Peterson told the Baton Rouge Press Club.

At the top of Democrats’ list is an effort to allow thousands of Louisiana residents to get free, government-funded health insurance through Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s health law.

The Legislature rejected an expansion of Louisiana’s Medicaid program last year, with strong opposition to the proposal from Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal. Peterson said the governor only opposes the measure because of his presidential ambitions.

“This governor finds that particular policy politically inconvenient for him. It’s sad,” she said.

Jindal has denied the accusation, saying the Medicaid expansion is too costly for the state and would add people to a poorly-operated government program.

On pay issues, Peterson said Democrats want to boost Louisiana’s minimum wage above the current $7.25 per hour in current federal law.

She didn’t specify a rate that would be sought, though Obama has proposed increasing the rate to $10.10 per hour. Peterson said no one who works 40 hours a week should make so little as to be eligible for food stamps.

Jindal opposes efforts to change Louisiana’s minimum wage from the federal wage.

Democratic lawmakers also plan to go for “round two” on equal pay legislation.

Lawmakers agreed last year that state agencies should be banned from paying unequal wages to employees of different genders for the same job. But Peterson said the Democratic Party wants to require the law to apply to private companies as well.

“This really should be a no-brainer,” she said. “This is just basic fairness.”

That faces opposition from business groups, who say it would make private businesses vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits.

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