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Eye On Olympia

Bill halted after alleged tit-for-tat email linking it to campaign contributions…

The biggest tussle between business and organized labor this year has been over SB 5446/HB 1528, which would bar employers from holding mandatory meetings with employees to discuss things like unionization, religion, or charitable giving.

The companies could still hold such meetings, but they could not make it mandatory for their employees to attend. To the unions and other proponents, it’s a simple matter of worker privacy and the right not to have to listen to something you don’t support. To businesses, it’s a gag rule.

The bill stalled recently after the attorney general’s office — in response to a request from a Republican lawmaker — issued an informal opinion saying that it probably conflicted with federal labor law. Proponents disagreed, however, and it recently seemed like the bill was getting back on track to be passed this year. It’s a top priority for unions.

Then, this morning, capitol reporters found a crypic press release in their email inboxes. It was an unusual joint statement from the governor, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, and House Speaker Frank Chopp. It said the bill is dead, and for a very interesting reason.

“We are no longer considering action on House Bill 1528 and Senate Bill 5446, also known as the Worker Privacy Act.
 
“Immediately upon becoming aware of an email linking potential action on the bill to campaign contributions, bringing the bill forward was no longer an option.
 
“The email raises serious legal and ethical questions.
 
“The matter has been referred to the Washington State Patrol for investigation.”

The State Patrol is saying little. Sgt. Freddy Williams said that the troopers just got handed the case, and that they don’t know much yet. It’s not even clear who may have jurisdiction yet, he said. Said Williams:

The WSP is taking this very seriously as we do with any potential criminal allegations and will work closely with prosecutors to determine a course of action.


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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