By Robby Stern
The first big “cut off” in the 2013 legislative session has occurred. It marks the deadline for passing bills from the chamber in which legislation originated. It is a good opportunity to do an initial evaluation of the work of the House and Senate.
If anyone had doubt that the betrayal by “Democratic” Senators Tom and Sheldon has led to firm Republican control of the Senate, the legislation passed by the Senate leading up to the cut off should dispel that doubt. Here are a few of the bills.
The Senate approved SB 5726 undermining Seattle’s Paid Sick Days ordinance. It exempts employers not headquartered in Seattle. The effect would impact thousands of workers in Seattle whose employer headquarters is outside the city. Sadly, four Democrats voted with the Republicans including Senators Steve Hobbs, Tracey Eide, Jim Hargrove and Brian Hatfield. Hopefully the House will kill this legislation.
The Senate attacked the wages of construction workers by passing legislation undermining the “prevailing wage” standards of our state. Prevailing wage law requires contractors to pay the industry standard when public funds pay for construction projects. The Republicans plus Senators Tom & Sheldon were joined by Sen. Mullet from Issaquah in passing SB 5107.
The Senate also passed SB 5158 which weakens our state law on payment of minimum wage and overtime. The vote was 25 – 24 with no Democrats other than Senators Tom and Sheldon joining the unanimous Republicans.
Fortunately, two bills , one creating a subminimum wage and the other repealing the Family and Medical Leave Act, did not reach the Senate floor for a vote.
As the Senate begins to craft their proposed budget for the next two years, their leadership, including Senator Tom, has stated there is no need for new revenue…no tax loop hole closures and no extension of existing temporary taxes. This sounds very much like the Republicans in the U. S. House of Representatives. If the Washington State Senate majority caucus has their way, we will have a state version of federal sequestration with vital programs being cut to the bone and many workers either losing their jobs or suffering reductions in their compensation.
What about the Washington House of Representatives? They are under Democratic control. What did they do and what did they fail to do?
They passed some good bills.
HB 1413, the Washington Voting Rights Act, prime sponsored by PSARA member, Rep. Luis Moscoso , won approval. It prohibits election districts that are drawn or maintained in a manner that denies an equal opportunity for members of a race, color, or language group to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of an election. It also establishes the right to sue to correct such discrimination.
There were several bills that were favorable to education workers. For example, community and technical college faculty, particularly part-time faculty, asked for the opportunity to achieve higher wages. HB 1348 represents progress toward achieving that goal.
HB 1840 bars people with no-contact orders, protection orders or restraining orders from possessing guns.
HB 1631 established a Joint Legislative Executive Committee on Aging and Disability Issues. That Committee is to profile Washington’s current elderly and disabled population and its needs. They are to establish an inventory of the available services and supports. The Committee must also establish a profile of the state’s elderly and disabled population in 2025, develop an anticipated inventory of future services and supports that will be needed. The Committee is also to develop a strategy of actions that the state may take to prepare for future demographic trends of the elderly and disabled populations and propose legislation to meet their demands. Part of the Committee’s mandate is to propose resources for housing and transportation programs to help persons who are elderly or disabled to maintain their independence. The Committee is to propose options for the financing of long term care.
These pieces of legislation are good but the House failed to tackle some really important issues.
HB 1313, one of PSARAs legislative priorities, would have expanded Paid Sick Days statewide. It failed to pass from the House. It would have been a perfect counter measure to the Senate attack on Paid Sick Days. It could have helped millions of Washington workers who have to decide whether to go to work sick and put others at risk or suffer a financial loss and stay home. It would have assisted family members who want to stay home with a sick family member but are unable to afford a loss of pay. This should have been a no brainer for Democrats who maintain they stand up for progressive values.
HB 1457, another PSARA priority, would have expanded and funded the Family and Medical Leave Act. It would have provided up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, a sick family member or a worker’s own serious health condition. A fund administered by the state would have been created by a small payroll contribution from workers and employers. The Democratic controlled House failed to act on this progressive piece of legislation.
Other worthy bills upon which the House failed to act include legislation establishing safe staffing levels in hospitals, assuring meal and rest breaks for hospital employees, and regulating mandatory overtime for hospital employees. Studies have shown these steps are critical to creating better outcomes for people who are hospitalized.
As the legislation that passed one chamber winds its way through the other chamber, the legislature and governor will propose their vision as to how the state should address the budget deficit and the next two year budget for our state. Many of us have much at stake as this process proceeds. Additional revenue is a key requirement to avoid draconian cuts.
We will continue to make our voices heard.