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Topic: Washington Legislature

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October 3, 2014 at 6:05 AM

Washington lawmakers don’t need to use Hobby Lobby ruling to drum up votes

Months after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the controversial “Hobby Lobby” ruling allowing privately held corporations to deny payment for certain types of birth control for female employees, Washington lawmakers are finding ways to fight back. This is to be expected. Washington is one of the most progressive states on protecting reproductive rights. Just weeks before election day, some Democrats are using this issue as a strategy to put them back in control of the state Senate, led by the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus since 2012.

Voters should look deeper before they take the bait.

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a press conference on Thursday, Oct. 2 at Bitter Lake Community Center, two blocks from a new Hobby Lobby store scheduled to open on Friday. Standing behind him, from left to right, are Democratic state Sens. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Karen Keiser, Kevin Ranker, and David Frockt.

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks at a press conference on Thursday, Oct. 2 at Bitter Lake Community Center, two blocks from a new Hobby Lobby store scheduled to open on Friday. Standing behind him, from left to right, are Democratic state Sens. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Karen Keiser, Kevin Ranker, and David Frockt. (Credit: Thanh Tan / The Seattle Times).

On Thursday, a group of Democratic lawmakers announced they are planning to file legislation — a “work-around” — next session to ensure employers do not deny women the full range of birth control options available to them through the Affordable Care Act. Joined by Gov. Jay Inslee, state Sens. David Frockt, Kevin Ranker, Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Karen Keiser said they are drafting a bill that would likely use the state’s anti-discrimination and Human Rights Commission rules.

The press event was staged at a community center two blocks from a Hobby Lobby store scheduled to open Friday in Seattle at 13200 Aurora Avenue North. Good to know they are doing their homework, but this was clearly also a bid to secure the women’s vote ahead of the November general election.

In a press release distributed to reporters, the Democrats warned their efforts to fight the Hobby Lobby decision might be hindered if they do not take back the majority in the upper chamber. In particular, they targeted Republican Sens. Andy Hill, Steve O’Ban and Democrat-turned-Republican candidate Mark Miloscia. If “elected or re-elected this year, it is unlikely that any progress on ensuring individual reproductive choices will be achieved,” they warned.

Again, voters should be skeptical. There’s no bill in place yet to be opposed, or supported, by members of either party.

Washington State has long supported a woman’s right to privacy and access when it comes to reproductive health care, including abortion care. Even before Roe v. Wade became the law of the land in 1972, this HistoryLink story explains how Washington voters passed Referendum 20 in 1970 legalizing abortion in the early months of pregnancy. In 1991, voters passed Initiative 120, which guarantees that every “individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control” and abortion (with few exceptions) and the “state shall not discriminate against the exercise of these rights in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.”

If this were Texas, where I used to report on women’s health politics from AustinI’d say go all out. Fight the good fight. But it’s Washington, the friendliest state in the nation when it comes to reproductive freedom and lack of barriers to birth control and abortion. NARAL Pro-Choice America gives the state an A+ grade for choice-related laws. We don’t have lawmakers demanding transvaginal ultrasounds, slashing family planning funds or passing policies to force abortion clinic closures. Vigilance is appreciated, but state legislators’ priority during the next session must be to tackle the other urgent task of preserving the state’s fragile social safety net and funding public education.

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Comments | Topics: abortion, birth control, hobby lobby

June 17, 2014 at 8:12 AM

Gag order in insurance-commissioner ruckus makes case for reform

Attorney Phil Talmadge and client Patricia Petersen testify at Monday's hearing of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Attorney Phil Talmadge and client Patricia Petersen testify at Monday’s hearing of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.

Even if lawmakers couldn’t ask specific questions about the alleged-nasty-business at the Washington state Office of the Insurance Commissioner, a hearing Monday in the state Senate presented an outstanding argument for reform. It started with the careful way that administrative law judge Patricia Petersen had to choose her words.

Petersen started a ruckus last month when she said her bosses in Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s office have been leaning on her in order to obtain favorable rulings. At Monday’s hearing of the Senate Law & Justice Committee, she spoke publicly for the first time since her accusation — but she labored under a gag order from Kreidler that prevented her from talking specifically about her case.

So Petersen found another way to make her point. In general, she told the committee it is a big mistake for judges to answer to the agency heads who employ them. In the aggregate, it would be “a travesty” if people who appeal state-agency decisions don’t get a fair hearing. “And if a judge is told by a party [to a case] to decide his or her cases in a certain way and one party can threaten the judge’s job if the case is not decided in that party’s favor, then the central pillar of our democracy is corroded.”

The fact that she had to tell her story that way — at Kreidler’s insistence — ties the whole thing up with ribbon and a bow. In written complaints filed previously, Petersen says she was threatened with a negative job evaluation because she wouldn’t submit to control; she now is on administrative leave while Kreidler’s office coordinates an investigation of itself. Maybe speaking generally is the right thing to do in this situation — the matter is bigger than the Office of Insurance Commissioner. Petersen’s job hangs by a thread because she has challenged a system that allows state agencies to dictate the outcome of administrative hearings. The problem ought to appall anyone who believes the judicial system should operate with a semblance of fairness.

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Comments | Topics: insurance commissioner, mike kreidler, patricia petersen

April 1, 2014 at 6:06 AM

As Wash. extends financial aid to ‘dreamers,’ Congress should reconsider immigration reform

One of the few controversial measures to pass the Washington state Legislature with bipartisan support this past session is now in effect statewide. The REAL Hope Act is a shining example of how states can take small steps to reform immigration policy — with or without congressional action.

Screenshot of the website where students can find out more about the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA).

Screenshot of the website where students can find out more about the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA).

A Monday press release sent to the media from the Washington Student Achievement Council included a catchy subject line: “Calling all dreamers” — application for state financial aid now available.

This is a special moment for bright students — known as dreamers — who are

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Comments | Topics: dream act, immigration reform, Washington Legislature

November 26, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Saving the children at Childhaven

Cheryl Mason and her husband John (older couple on bottom row)  adopted seven children who came to them as foster children receiving services at Childhaven. Their children are now successful adults starting their own families, underscoring Childhaven's powerful role helping abused or neglected children grow into healthy adults. (Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

Cheryl Mason and her husband John (older couple on bottom row) adopted seven children who came to them as foster children receiving services at Childhaven. Their children are now successful adults starting their own families, underscoring Childhaven’s powerful role helping abused or neglected children grow into healthy adults.
(Ellen M. Banner/The Seattle Times)

Many in philanthropy and social services were caught off guard by federal Medicaid officials recent decision to cut off funding to Childhaven, which provides child care and therapy for abused and neglected children. Childhaven would lose $4 million a year, the combined total of the 50-50 match between state and federal Medicaid dollars — nearly half its revenue. Federal officials should reconsider.

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Comments | Topics: child abuse, children, Education

November 13, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Senate Majority Coalition’s $12.3 billion transportation package lands with a thud in Seattle

The Republican-dominated state Senate Majority Coalition, which balked at passing a huge transportation funding package earlier this year, is now floating a $12.3 billion transportation package, with an expectation that Gov. Jay Inslee may call another special Legislative session next week.

That alone is big news, because the deal includes a 11.5 cent gas tax increase theoretically endorsed by a fiscally conservative caucus. The package is heavy on maintenance, but would also pay for 51 projects, with billion-dollar chunks going to completion of the State Route 520 floating bridge ($1.3 billion), widening of Interstate 405 from Lynnwood to Renton ($1.25 billion) and the so-called Puget Sound Gateway expansion of State Route 509-167  ($1.69 billion). Here’s the draft project list and balance sheet. It also gives King and Snohomish counties authority to fund transit services by putting local-option taxes on the ballot.

The unfinished State Route 520 floating bridge / ALAN BERNER / SEATTLE TIMES

The unfinished State Route 520 floating bridge / ALAN BERNER / SEATTLE TIMES

Senate and House leaders are negotiating, but Senate Transportation Committee Co-chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, and House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said they agree on a broad outline, and on many of the projects. Clibborn’s version, passed by the House in June, is here.

Inslee spokesman David Postman said the governor could call a special session Nov. 21 and 22, when lawmakers are in Olympia to pick committee chairs for the 2014 session, but would only do so if there’s enough votes to pass the package. A clearer path toward a special session may emerge Friday, when caucuses meet in Olympia.

What’s odd about the MCC proposal is the muted response by King County Democrats. They hammered the coalition for failing to act last June, largely because the package would have given King County “local option” taxes to stave off devastating cuts (including cancelling 74 routes).

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Comments | Topics: senate majority coalition, transportation, Washington Legislature

February 26, 2013 at 6:55 AM

Healthier products for healthier kids

The price of healthy children is eternal vigilance, to paraphrase a quote of disputed origin. Protecting kids from harmful chemicals is a seemingly endless task for lawmakers. The Washington Legislature is considering Substitute House Bill 1294, which prohibits the sale, manufacture or distribution of children’s products or residential furniture containing the chemical flame-retardant Tris in amounts…

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Comments | Topics: chemical Tris, flame retardants, Washington Legislature