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Health care bills advance in Legislature on two fronts

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Plus, a status report on key labor-backed bills

 

This is the latest edition of the weekly Legislative Update newsletter from the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. If you didn’t receive it via email, subscribe to The Stand and you’ll get the Legislative Updates and all of the WSLC’s other legislative reports.


OLYMPIA (March 18, 2019) — Everybody says they want to expand access to affordable quality health care. Democrats, Independents, Republicans, Sen. Tim Sheldon (?-Potlatch)… everybody. The debate is over how to accomplish that. And for Washington state legislators in 2019, the question is how to accomplish that in our state amid congressional inaction and downright dysfunction in D.C.

Generally, conservatives want to decrease or eliminate regulations (read: consumer protections) on private insurers, drug companies and health-care providers, and let the invisible hand of the marketplace sort it out. Moderates want to work within America’s existing public-private health-care framework and ensure regulations protect people (like those with pre-existing conditions) from inhumane, profit-driven abuses within the industry. And liberals — and many labor unions — want to move toward a single-payer government-run system (like “Medicare for All”) that covers everybody and makes health care a right, not a commodity for those lucky enough to have it.

Because the Democratic Party is in firm control in Olympia, the debate is mostly over options #2 and #3.

As Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) told The Seattle Times, “Do we stand up what’s not working in the Affordable Care Act? … But at the same time, how do you move into a transformational direction into some kind of universal system?”

Last Wednesday, the cutoff deadline for bills to pass from their houses of origin, the answer was “both.” The Senate passed two important health care bills, both supported by the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, .

SB 5822, sponsored by Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton), would set up a work group to make recommendations for publicly funded, privately delivered health care for all Washington state residents. The group will have representatives from various stakeholders in the state’s healthcare system, including from labor with knowledge of Taft-Hartley trusts, and would report its finding and make recommendations to legislators by Nov. 15, 2020.

SB 5822 passed the Senate, 28-21, last Wednesday on a party-line vote — Democrats voting “yes” and Republicans voting “no” — and is now before the House Health Care & Wellness Committee, which will soon schedule a public hearing.

SB 5526 and HB 1523, sponsored by Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) and Rep. Eileen Cody (D-Seattle), aim to increase the availability of quality, affordable private health coverage in the individual market. They would require the state to create a standardized insurance plans and contract with health insurance carriers to offer those plans. They also require the state to develop a plan to provide subsidies that would help low-income people afford their premiums.

SB 5526 passed the Senate, 36-13, last Wednesday and is before the Health Care & Wellness Committee. HB 1523 passed the House, 57-41, and will be heard in the Senate Health & Long Term Care on March 20.

The WSLC believes it makes perfect sense to proceed on both fronts to protect working families and expand health care access in both the short and long terms.

 


What’s alive and what’s ‘dead’ in Olympia

 

Given the remarkable number of bills being considered by the 2019 State Legislature, it was no surprise that quite a few missed last Wednesday’s cutoff deadline. There were some important votes last week to approve priority WSLC-supported legislation, but there were also several disappointments on bills that deserved passage but didn’t get votes.

Here is a quick status report on the labor-supported bills that have been described in previous editions of this newsletter:

 

ALIVE AND WELL

 

UPDATE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING LAWSHB 1575, sponsored by Rep. Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver), would update Washington’s collective bargaining statutes to reflect common practices, promote consistency for certifying union elections, assign record-keeping responsibility, and generally bring our state laws into compliance with the Janus decision. Read more about this bill or download this one-pager for more details. — Passed House, 57-41. In Senate Labor & Commerce.

ALLOWING AAGs TO JOIN TOGETHERSB 5297, sponsored by Sen. Sam Hunt (D-Olympia), would extend collective bargaining rights to assistant attorneys general. Read more about it. — Passed Senate, 27-18. In House Labor & Workforce Standards. Hearing: March 21.

HEALTHCARE MEAL & REST BREAKS — HB 1155, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), is patient safety legislation that would ensure frontline healthcare workers receive uninterrupted meal and rest breaks and close a dangerous loophole in the mandatory overtime law. Read more about it. — Passed House, 63-34. In Senate Committee on Labor & Commerce. Hearing held.

HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT FOR ALL (HEAL) ACT — SB 5489, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), creating a definition of environmental justice, directing agencies to address environmental health disparities, and creating a task force to recommend strategies for state agencies to incorporate environmental justice principles into their responsibilities. — Passed Senate, 27-21. In House State Government & Tribal Relations. Hearing: March 19.

H-2A OVERSIGHTSB 5438, sponsored by Sen. John McCoy (D), will create some state oversight of the H-2A program, the federal program allows the agricultural industry to bring foreign “guest” farmworkers into the country on temporary work visas. Read more about it. — Passed Senate, 26-21. In House Labor & Workplace Standards. Hearing: March 19.

INTEREST ARBITRATION FOR CAMPUS POLICESB 5022, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), would provide interest arbitration for police officers at four-year colleges and universities. Read more about it. — Passed Senate, 45-2. In House Labor & Workplace Standards. Hearing: March 21.

INTEREST ARBITRATION FOR CORRECTIONS OFFICERSSB 5021, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), would provide interest arbitration for employees at the Department of Corrections. Read more about it. — Passed Senate, 47-0. In House Labor & Workplace Standards. Hearing: March 21.

KEEP WASHINGTON WORKING ACTSB 5497, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island). establishes a statewide policy supporting Washington state’s economy and immigrants’ role in the workplace, and ensures their access to state services. It develops strategies to protect our immigrant workforce, and secure their rights as workers and members of our communities. Read more about it. — Passed Senate, 30-16. In House Civil Rights & Judiciary. Hearing: March 22.

LONG-TERM CARE TRUST ACTHB 1087, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), would establish a Long-Term Care Trust to reduce the biggest uninsured risk Washingtonians now face. It will help protect future taxpayers from the cost of long-term care, both to their families and to the state budget. Most of all, it would give families the security of knowing they will get the care they need when they need it most without the added stress of how to pay for it. Read more about it. — Passed House, 63-33. In Senate Health & Long-Term Care. Hearing: March 15. (Today!)

100% CLEAN ENERGY — SB 5116, sponsored by Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), would transition all electric utilities away from coal-fired power by 2026 and would make all retail sales of electricity greenhouse gas neutral by Jan. 1, 2030. A committee amendment to this bill reflects that tax incentives are tied to important labor standards like prevailing wage, apprenticeship utilization, preferred hire for women- and minority-owned businesses. Also, higher rebates are available for signing a project labor or community workforce agreements. — Passed Senate, 28-19. In House Finance. Hearing: March 19.

PLAN 2 DEFAULTSB 5360 / HB 1308, sponsored by Sen. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma) and Rep. Derek Stanford (D-Bothell), would change the default retirement plan for public workers from Plan 3 to Plan 2, if they fail to choose a plan within 90 days, to ensure more retirees are protected by defined-benefit pensions. — SB 5360 passed Senate, 39-9. In House Appropriations. Hearing: March 20. HB 1308 passed House, 74-22. In Senate Ways & Means.

REGULATE NON-COMPETITION CONTRACTSSB 5478 and HB 1450, sponsored by Sen. Marko Liias (D-Lynnwood) and Rep. Derek Stanford (D-Bothell), would regulate non-competition agreements in Washington state to ensure they aren’t being used to exploit workers and deny them the opportunities to find better jobs. Read more about it. — Both bills were amended. SB 5478 passed Senate, 30-18. In House Labor & Workplace Standards. Hearing: March 19. HB 1450 passed House, 55-41. In Senate Labor & Commerce.

WORK VIOLENCE / SEXUAL HARASSMENT — SB 5258, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), requires companies that employ custodians, security guards, hotel or motel housekeepers, or others who spend a majority of their working hours alone to adopt a sexual harassment policy, provide sexual harassment training, provide a list of resources to employees, and provide panic buttons to isolated workers. — Passed Senate, 47-0. In House Labor & Workforce Standards. Hearing: March 19. ALSO HB 1056, sponsored by Rep. Gina Mosbrucker (R-Goldendale), would create a task force to identify the role of the workplace in helping curb domestic violence. — Passed House 97-0. In Senate Labor & Commerce. Hearing: March 21.

 

FAILED TO PASS

 

SIMPLE MAJORITY SCHOOL BONDSSJR 8201, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Is.) at the request of Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal, would have allowed Washington voters to decide this fall whether to change the constitution’s unreasonable 60 percent supermajority hurdle required to approve school bonds. This requirement has doomed many critical public school projects to failure, despite support from a majority of voters, and contributes to overflowing classrooms and unsafe crumbling schools.

The Senate voted 28-21, but a two-thirds supermajority is required (sound familiar?) to change the state constitution, so the measure failed. It was a strict party-line vote, with all 28 Democrats voting “yes” and all 20 Republicans and Sen. Tim Sheldon (“D”-Potlatch) voting “no.” Just two more “yes” votes and it passes.

 

MISSED CUTOFF

 

The following labor-supported bills were alive and available for floor votes this week, but failed to get that vote before Wednesday’s cutoff. They are now considered “dead” unless resurrected via budget proviso or extraordinary procedural means.

SIMPLIFY EMPLOYEE CLASSIFICATION HB 1515, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), would simplify “independent contractor” definitions and improve enforcement when workers are incorrectly classified, which strips them of wages and access to worker safety nets, creates an unlevel playing field for businesses, and siphons away state revenue. Read more about it, or download a one-page PDF on the issue. — It was amended in House Labor & Workforce Standards to create a work group of labor and business representatives to study this issue and present its findings to the Legislature this fall. Then, that weakened bill failed to get a floor vote.

INTEREST ARBITRATION FOR D.F.W. SERGEANTSHB 2037, sponsored by Rep. Mike Sells (D-Everett), would provide interest arbitration under certain circumstances for sergeants at the state Department of Fish & Wildlife.

TAXPAYER PROTECTION ACTHB 1521, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Dolan (D-Olympia), would ensure taxpayers are getting the best return on the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on for-profit contractors and private groups that provide public services. It would adopt performance metrics and accountability measures for all contracts. Read more about it.

TRANSPARENCY IN AGRICULTURAL SUPPLY CHAINS ACTSB 5693, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), would provide transparency and corporate accountability for any labor abuses within the agricultural supply chain. Read more about it.

WORKER PROTECTION ACTHB 1965, sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Is.), allows whistleblowers to sue on behalf of the state to enforce labor laws.

 


The WSLC Legislative Update is a weekly newsletter of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. It describes legislation of particular concern to Washington’s working families during throughout the state legislative session. Links to previous editions are available here. Additional legislative news is posted at The Stand’s State Government section.

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