MONDAY, JANUARY 21 (PDF
Let the Budget Battle
With one eye on the nation's
shaky economy and the other on her upcoming election, Governor Christine
Gregoire opened this year's Legislative Session insisting that lawmakers spend
sparingly. Is her $1.2 billion set-aside realistic? Critical budget and policy
items are on the agenda this session that will protect working families from
economic woes. Health care Reform. Unemployment Benefits. Family Leave.
The WSLC is following these and
more pieces of legislation important to our affiliates and their members. We
will attempt to keep you informed and up to date with weekly reports from
Legislative Conference will be Feb. 14
Leaders, staffers and
rank-and-file members of WSLC-affiliated unions are invited to get a progress
report on labor's legislative agenda at the Washington State Labor Council's
2008 Legislative Conference, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14
at the Olympia Red Lion Hotel. As always, there will be a reception from 6:30
to 8:30 p.m. the preceding evening on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at the hotel with
many legislators and other state officials in attendance. The conference
registration fee, which includes materials, lunch and one admission to the
reception, is $50. Get more information, including registration forms, at www.wslc.org.
Life into Health Care for Washington
"What do we want?"
"Quality, affordable, Health Care!" "When do we want it?"
That was the sound echoing on
the Capitol Campus on Wednesday of this week as the Healthy Washington
Coalition, the broadest, strongest and most comprehensive statewide group
aiming to reform health care staged its first Lobby Day. More than 150
participants lobbied 27 district legislators imploring them to do the work
needed to lay the ground work for getting all Washingtonians secure,
affordable health care by 2009.
Inside, legislators were
considering several health care bills including the Health Insurance
Partnership Bill (HB 2537). This bill must be passed in order to get subsidies
to small business owners to provide health care to their employees.
Michele Molten, a small
business owner at Pike Place Market provided moving testimony as she recalled
her dreadful journey through an illness without adequate health care. Michele
told the committee, "This is my make-a-wish day and that is to have
quality, affordable health care for all small businesses."
Representatives of association
plans and an insurance broker testified against the bill. But many legislators
seemed to like the idea of helping small businesses through the Health
The House also heard HB 2549.
The hearing of this bill allowed HWC to promote an expansion of the
scholarship and loan program to encourage newly minted medical providers to
practice primary care in underserved areas of the state. Legislator reaction
was extremely favorable.
The creation of a Working Group
to study specific health care plans to create quality, affordable coverage for
all Washingtonians was introduced as HB 2536.
The working group would be
tasked with examining 4 or 5 specific plans to determine the cost of each
plan, the degree to which each plan would provide quality, comprehensive care
and the impact of the plan on access to quality affordable care.
Rep. Eileen Cody (District 34)
made it clear she would welcome a plan from the Republicans for the Working
Group to consider.
Republicans were concerned
about the make-up of the group as well as the openness of the dialogue. Cody
stressed that the working group would travel around each district in the state
to hear from citizens in order to understand the needs of Washingtonians.
It was agreed that a robust
health care discussion is needed.
The Senate was considering two
bills: SB 6241, the Prescription Privacy bill and SB 5261, the Insurance Rate
Lonnie Johns Brown represented
the HWC on the Prescription Privacy bill describing how pharmaceutical
companies use data mining to access the prescribing records of doctors and
then use that information to sell the doctors their products. Pharmaceutical
companies said that using this information lowers research costs by targeting
Data mining companies testified that it was an
"invasion of free speech" and that the selling of data helped them
provide data for research institutions. That argument fell flat. Researchers
can't afford data mining prices; they rely instead on info from Medicare and
Medicaid which they get free.
Insurance Rate Accountability
(SB 5261) brought a hostile reaction from Republicans. They can't imagine
requiring insurers to justify rate increases in the individual market. And
insurance companies came in with their guns loaded -- they should not be
regulated – even though their profits are skyrocketing and there is no
HWC is in strong support of both Senate bills.
When we left session last year
we rejoiced that the Family Leave Insurance bill had been passed – even if
it was a watered down version. We at WSLC believe the family leave program is
essential for our families and children. It will improve children’s health
and early learning, promote family economic security, and boost business
productivity. There is no doubt a full paid family leave program will make
children better students and workers, lower demands on state services, and
lower health care costs for families, businesses, and the state.
So where does FLI stand now?
Last year a task force was assigned to iron out the details. They were to find
solutions to funding the program, decide which agency will administer the
services, address the impacts on the Unemployment Insurance system and make
suggestions for administrative efficiency. They did their job with the
exception of recommending who funds the program in the long run; that work is
still ahead of us.
This week HB 2665 was
introduced to make the task force recommendations law. We like some aspects of
the bill better than others. We would have preferred that Labor &
Industries administer the program rather than the Employment Security
Department. But regardless, we firmly believe the FLI program, like other
social insurance programs, must be in the domain of the public sector not the
We support the provision of the
bill that exempts employers being charged for unemployment benefits for
temporary workers when they are brought in to cover employees who take FLI
leave. When the worker returns and the temporary worker is laid off the UI
safety net should be there but the employer should not be charged for the
experience related to that layoff. We strongly oppose making any other changes
to the benefits provision of UI.
The bill is silent on funding
although the Task Force recommends funding out of the General Fund through the
next two years. It is time to generate the political will to fund FLI.
Passing HB 2665 will take us
one step closer to full implementation of our Family Leave Insurance program
with the first benefits to be paid to eligible WA workers in October of 2009.
Doth Protest Too Much
initiative profiteer Tim Eyman appeared at Friday morning’s House State
Government and Tribal Affairs Committee dressed in a gorilla suit. He, along
with a group of his initiative groupies, showed up to testify against a
package of initiative accountability bills we have been promoting since 2007.
Why is Tim Eyman so steadfast
against these reforms? It may have something to do with the fact that a full
signature check of his Initiative 917 in 2006 revealed major irregularities in
his signature gathering. He failed to qualify for the ballot in 2006 because
his petitions were full of duplicates at a rate never seen in our state’s
history and that rubber signature stamps were used.
gathering is a growing cottage industry in our state. For the most part,
people engaged in this industry come from other parts of the country to gather
signatures on a "pay per signature" basis on measures aimed to
dismantle our state and local government. We value the ability of our citizens
to address issues of concern using the initiative process. But, enough is
enough. It’s time to shed some light on this industry.
This package of legislation
would require signature gatherers to sign petitions they circulate, would
require firms engaged in professional signature gathering to register with the
PDC and would require those independent signature gatherers to register as
well. And, to address public safety concerns, no individual convicted of
fraud, forgery, identity theft or who has been convicted of a sex crime may
engage in signature gathering.
Washington State has a proud
history of public disclosure. What is Tim Eyman worried about? If his
business, and it IS a business, is on the up and up, show us. Me thinks he
doth protest too much.
the Moral Stance
Translators and interpreters
are part of one of the fastest growing and critical industries to our growing
immigrant population. But according to HB 2050, a bill heard this week in the
House Commerce and Labor Committee: these essential workers will be denied
unemployment insurance. We at the WSLC think this is just flat out wrong and
The changing demographics of
our state have created a profitable industry that is grown exponentially.
These employers can well afford to pay UI taxes to those workers who provide
critical services to our immigrant worker population. What we need to be doing
is growing the supply of translators and interpreters by making these jobs
good family wage jobs, not by making these jobs less attractive. WSLC opposes
and WSLC positions
As the bills drop and hearings are
scheduled, look for more details in this newsletter and at www.wslc.org
on the following WSLC legislative agenda items:
UI COMPENSATION FOR LOCKED OUT
WORKERS - SB 6327/HB 2769 - PRO
There is a Senate hearing @ 10 am, Monday 1/21 in SHR 4. In the House there is
a hearing on Tuesday 1/22 @ 1:30 pm in HHRC.
WA HEALTHY PARTNERSHIP -
SB 6221 - PRO Senate Hearing Monday 1/21 @ 1:30 pm in SHR 4.
PRESCRIPTION PRIVACY BILL
- HB 2664 - PRO There is a House hearing @ 1:30 pm , Monday 1/21
in HHR D.
CITIZEN WORKING GROUP ON
HEALTH CARE - SB 6333. PRO There
is a Senate hearing @ 8:00 am, Wed. 1/23 in SHR 4.
FAMILY LEAVE INSURANCE
- SB 6280 - PRO Senate Hearing Thurs. 1/24 @ 3:30 pm in SHR 4
SERVICE CHARGE NOTIFICATION
- HB 2699 - PRO House Hearing on Friday, 1/25 @ 2:30 in HHR C.