LITTLE ROCK — A House committee Thursday defeated a bill to repeal Arkansas’ prevailing wage law.

House Bill 1151 by Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, failed in the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. A motion to endorse the bill received 8 "yes" votes and 12 "no" votes.

The committee room was packed for the hearing, with some construction workers in the crowd wearing hard hats as a sign of their profession. Testifying in support of his bill, Douglas said the existing law requiring workers on a public works project to be paid no less than the prevailing hourly wage for similar work in the same county or city should be repealed because the government should not tell private businesses how much to pay their employees.

Douglas also said his bill could save the state $80 million a year, eliminating wasteful spending.

"I just have a philosophical problem with the fact that I can build a building cheaper than a county, city or state can," he said.

Testifying against the bill, Denise Oxley, general counsel for the state Labor Department, said that when the Legislature passed the prevailing wage law in 1969 it stated that it was the state’s policy not to use its buying power to undermine workers’ wages.

Oxley also said that the $80 million-a-year savings Douglas projected would only be possible if workers’ wages were cut by 20 percent.

"I really question whether that is what we want to decide to do as a public policy in the state of Arkansas," she said.

Douglas said after the hearing he did not plan to try again with the bill.