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April 18, 2013 at 6:04 AM

Washington senators fail to pass abortion insurance, but not too late for Dream Act

Let me start by reiterating one point: The Seattle Times editorial board respects a woman’s right to privacy and to receive insurance coverage for maternal or abortion care. In our editorial, we have supported HB 1044, the Reproductive Parity Act, and I’ve written about this issue several times over the last few months in blog posts.

Fast forward to the present.

I should have known women’s health would be used as a political football. Somehow, I thought members of the Washington state Senate would find a way to call a truce and pass the Reproductive Parity Act — a bill that simply protects the state’s current rules after federal health care reforms take effect.

I was wrong. Flat-out naive, really, to think lawmakers would respect the will of most Washington voters on this sensitive issue.

We can’t assign blame to one party or coalition. There’s enough of that to go around.

Pro-abortion rights lawmakers such as state Sens. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, and Karen Keiser, D-Kent, are understandably peeved by two failed efforts within 48 hours to bring the RPA to the floor, according to this Tuesday press statement and a Wednesday Associated Press news story. (Watch TVW’s video of  the second contentious show-down below.) Just don’t forget this issue also stalled last year when the chamber was controlled by Democrats.

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In 2012, then-Senate Democratic Majority Leader Lisa Brown held a version of the Reproductive Parity Act until the end of the session,  then attached it to a Republican budget bill during the contentious ninth order proceedings as part of a failed power play. (For a primer on what happened, here is a 2012 Crosscut story and a March 5, 2012 press release issued by the RPA’s co-sponsor, state Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, explaining how he got politically steam rolled on the issue.)

Perhaps Democrats assumed they could bring it up again this session. Of course, the dynamics changed when 23 Republicans and two Democrats formed the Majority Coalition Caucus. I’m critical of the group’s consistent refusal to allow HB 1044 out of committee for a floor vote, where it reportedly has 25 votes to pass. Public perception matters, so it certainly makes the entire caucus look intolerant toward women’s health issues.

Coalition members Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Litzow say they support the spirit of the measure, but they won’t break with their caucus on procedural moves to bring it to the floor. Both say they don’t want to open the floodgates and allow other contentious issues, such as parental notification to terminate a pregnancy, out of committee. Democrats rightly argue their latest attempts have been narrow and focused. The excuses are becoming more nuanced by the day.

Tom has said it doesn’t matter if HB 1044 doesn’t pass this year — insurance coverage will continue. Sure, but that’s not a guarantee that aligns with the values of a state that has historically voted in favor of abortion rights. The whole point of the RPA is to create certainty for women and insurance companies.

Coalition members have also tried to argue all session that social issues are off the table. They want their focus to be on building a sustainable budget and creating jobs. Sounds great, but we’re learning that’s just not realistic. People elect their leaders to balance the books and to make hard choices on policies that affect all Washingtonians. If we ignored social issues altogether, perhaps same-sex marriage wouldn’t be legal in this state.

Aside from the RPA, there’s one other major “social issue” that’s still alive: the Washington Dream Act. I’m told there’s a chance Democrats will try to amend a budget-related bill to include a provision that would allow hundreds of undocumented high school graduates to seek state need grants. This would be a welcome gesture and I hope the Democrats succeed. Our board called out state Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, and other Republicans in this April 7 editorial for trapping the bill in the Higher Education Committee.

We have to accept the deadline to pass the Reproductive Parity Act has passed. The battle for that measure is over for now.

There’s still time to fight for the Washington Dream Act.

Comments | More in Video | Topics: abortion, dream act, Reproductive Parity Act


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