OLYMPIA — A hearing on a proposal to require insurance companies to cover abortion services if they cover live births was cancelled this morning, a few days after the committee chairman said he would hear the bill even though he didn't support it.
The Reproductive Parity bill was among several proposals on the schedule for the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which earlier this week held a two-hour hearing on a bill on the other side of the abortion issue which would require parental notification for any minor seeking an abortion.
Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, announced on Monday he was scheduling the Friday morning hearing, adding that didn't mean he supported it. Padden is a longtime opponent of abortion and a co-sponsor of the parental notification bill. At the time he said the Reproductive Parity bill had problems that would become clear in the hearing.
The committee did meet, discussing bills on boating safety, adding judges in the Tri-Cities and defining subpoena power for the state auditor.
Abortion bills have the potential for splitting the coalition of 23 Republicans and two Democrats who form the majority in the Senate. Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who supports abortion rights, said earlier this week that he didn't support the parental notification bill, but the hearing was the first on the oft-proposed measure in 10 years. Holding a hearing on that measure showed the coaltion was willing to debate issues that had been “bottled up” by the previous Democratic majority, he said.
At the time, Tom also noted that the Reproductive Parity bill had been scheduled for today's hearing, and said the hearings would “get us away from demonization” of the two sides on the issue.
“Let's have that debate,” he said.
Padden said this morning he decided to cancel the Reproductive Parity bill because he believes it would jeopardize federal funding and invite lawsuits if it became law. An identical bill has been referred to the Health Care Committee
“I never was a fan of the bill to begin with and I worked hard to defeat it last year,” Padden said of a similar measure that died when time ran out for a deadline to pass bills.
After the bill was abruptly pulled from the Law and Justice hearing calendar, Tom reportedly told the Associated Press it was not determined when or where the bill might be heard. An identical bill is before the Senate Health Committee, but is not expected to get a hearing there, either. A similar bill has been heard in the House and is expected to pass that chamber.
Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, the sponsor of the Reproductive Parity bill that was pulled from Friday's hearing schedule, said he was frustrated by Padden's refusal to hear the bill.
But Hobbs said Tom has “given me his word that we're going to hear it. I'm going to give him the opportunity to get it right.”
One Democratic source said an option could be for Senate leaders to reassign the bill to the Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, because it involves a regulation for insurance companies.
The chairman of that committee is Hobbs.