Today’s edition of the WSLC Legislative Update newsletter:
OLYMPIA (Mar. 4, 2014) — It’s been about 14 months since two erstwhile Democrats traded control of the Washington State Senate to Republicans in exchange for leadership positions — and bigger offices. Last Friday, the real consequences of those partisan political machinations became clearer than ever. Republicans chairing Senate committees killed dozens of labor-supported bills that had passed the House — dealing with everything from paid sick leave to wage theft to electricians’ certification — in most cases without even allowing a public hearing.
“Apparently, legislation that’s important to working families isn’t even worthy of discussion on the Republican Senate floor, much less support,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “The House stepped up and passed some important legislation to try to make Washington a better place to live and work, but the Senate appears intent on D.C.-style obstruction and gridlock. It’s truly a shame because that’s not what voters asked for in 2012,” an election where Democrats won the governor’s office and majorities in both legislative houses.
One of the few labor-backed bills that got a Senate hearing was HB 1313, the Paid Safe and Sick Leave legislation. Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry (R-Moses Lake), chair of the Commerce and Labor Committee, scheduled last Wednesday’s hearing on the lobbying day for the National Federation of Independent Business.
“When you pay people to be sick, they will be sick,” testified Linda Wilson of Dewils Custom Cabinetry in Vancouver, predicting that her employees will simply use paid sick time as “another form of paid vacation.”
Representatives of unions, progressive businesses, public health and domestic violence groups all gave very compelling testimony in support of HB 1313, but in the end it suffered the same fate that almost every other labor-backed bill did in Sen. Holmquist Newbry’s committee, it was killed without a vote.
“There are a million Washingtonians who have no paid safe or sick leave,” said Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), the bill’s prime sponsor. “HB 1313 was a reasonable, business-friendly response to these pressing issues that affect so many of our friends and neighbors. The failure of the Senate Republicans to bring HB 1313 up for a vote is inexcusable. This is just one more sign of how their priorities ignore the daily struggles of working Washingtonians. The Senate Republicans, in killing this bill, have shown they have little interest in making sure all families are able to live with basic dignity and respect.”
Here are some of the bills killed on Friday’s deadline for bills to pass policy committees:
PAID SAFE AND SICK LEAVE — HB 1313 (prime sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins) requires businesses with at least five employees to allow their employees to earn some paid sick leave over time. It passed the House 52-45 and was killed in Senate Commerce and Labor (chaired by Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry).
LOCAL COLLEGE BARGAINING — HB 1348 (Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Olympia) allows community and technical colleges to use local funds for part- and full-time faculty step increases. It passed the House 63-34 and was killed in Senate Commerce and Labor (Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry).
CERTIFIED PAYROLL — HB 2331 (Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett) would enable workers on public construction projects to confirm they are being lawfully paid their prevailing wage by requiring contractors to post timely certified payroll reports. It passed the House 54-44 and was killed Senate Commerce and Labor (Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry).
TRIPLE DAMAGES — HB 2332 (Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma) would discourage wage theft by making employers liable for triple damages, rather than double, in a civil action. It passed the House 53-45 and was killed in Senate Commerce and Labor (Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry).
WAGE THEFT RETALIATION — HB 2333 (Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline) would establish criminal penalties for employers who retaliate against workers who seek their rightfully earned wages. Today, victims of wage theft often don’t seek their earned pay due to the threat their hours will be cut, they will be fired, or they will face some immigration-related action initiated by the employer. It passed the House 53-45 and was killed in Senate Commerce and Labor (Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry).
WORKPLACE FRAUD — HB 2334 (Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane) would address the workplace fraud of misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid paying taxes and premiums for workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. It would establish a simple, 3-part test —one used in other states—to make it clear who is a traditional employee and who is a bona fide independent contractor. It passed the House 51-45 and was killed in Senate Commerce and Labor (Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry).
ELECTRICIAN CERTIFICATION — HB 2500 (Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Olympia) would promote apprenticeship and improve worker and public safety by requiring completion of an apprenticeship program to receive a journey-level or residential specialty electrician certificate of competency. It passed the House 54-40 and was killed in Senate Commerce and Labor (Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry).
FEDERAL BASIC HEALTH — HB 2594 (Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane) creates a blueprint for a Federal Basic Health Plan Option under the Affordable Care Act, which would allow low-income adults who might not be eligible for Medicaid to purchase affordable coverage. It passed the House 54-43 and was killed in Senate Health Care (Sen. Randi Becker).
Meanwhile over in the House, Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett), chair of the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, granted hearings on all but one of the following labor-opposed bills. Thankfully, none of the bills advanced.
RETRO — SB 5112 (Sen. Janéa Holmquist-Newbry, R-Moses Lake) would have allowed Retrospective Rating groups to claim larger rebates by rushing injured workers through the medical examination and vocational assessment processes.
WORKERS’ COMP BUYOUTS — SB 5127 (Holmquist-Newbry) would have exposed injured workers of all ages to “compromises” that settle claims for pennies on the dollar.
“GOOD FAITH” DEFENSE — SB 5158 (Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia) would have created a “good-faith” defense for employers that fail to pay minimum or overtime wages.
GROUP SELF-INSURANCE — SB 6179 (Braun) would have increased the risk of insolvency and threatened small businesses during periods of default.
There was also a clear contrast between the Senate and House versions of the state budget.
The Republican-controlled Senate passed a budget on Thursday that protects all existing special-interest tax breaks — and added quite a few new ones — while keeping teacher pay frozen for a sixth straight year. The Senate is proposing the creation or extension of nearly two dozen tax breaks. Beekeepers, alcohol resellers, log haulers, technology and energy companies are among those that would receive tax subsidies.
The Senate also underfunded what’s necessary to maintain public services by $48 million. Rather than use the maintenance levels based on projected caseloads, the Senate simply refused to fund that amount to maintain agency budget baselines.
Although the House budget did not include the teachers’ COLA or make investments in reducing class sizes, House Democratic leaders released a plan (HB 2792 and 2796) alongside their budget that would close four tax loopholes to fund long-overdue cost-of-living increases for teachers and school employees and an additional $60 million for textbooks and classroom supplies. The targeted loopholes include tax breaks for some out-of-state shoppers, oil refineries, bottled water, and prescription drug resellers.
UPDATE (Mar. 5) — The House budget was amended to include teacher COLAs and approved late Tuesday on a 53-44 vote.
But perhaps the most promising news of the week was the announcement of a bipartisan school construction plan by House Capital Budget Committee Chairman Hans Dunshee (D-Snohomish) and Rep. Drew MacEwen (R-Union). HB 2797 would build $700 million worth of desperately needed projects to reduce class sizes for kindergarten through third grade students by selling bonds backed by lottery revenue. Many school districts across the state are trying to initiate all-day kindergarten and reduce early elementary school class sizes but lack the classroom space to do so. This bill would address those needs.
“Reduced class sizes and all-day kindergarten play a critical role in a child’s success,” Dunshee said. “In order to accomplish these goals, new classrooms must be in place before teachers can show-up for work. Across the state, east and west, schools struggle to find the space. This plan gives them the classrooms they need and creates 7,000 jobs at the same time.”
The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO strongly supports this bipartisan plan to improve schools and create jobs.
This Friday, March 7 is the deadline for bills to pass from the opposite house and Thursday, March 13 is the last day of the session. Unlike last year, when three overtime sessions were needed to wrap up budget work, most expect this session to end on time and for legislators—most of whom must stand for re-election this fall—to quickly shift into campaign mode. One thing is certain, voters are going to have some clear evidence as to which lawmakers are standing up for working families and which are advocating for powerful corporate interests.
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