Washington State Employees Union A Hurdle To Private System

As in Idaho, Washington’s lawmakers have begun asking whether it makes sense to put prisoners into the hands of private operators.

But one big hurdle - the state employees union - will keep that change from occurring in Washington in the next few years, a Spokane legislator said.

Washington legislators in the 1997 Legislature will raise, again, the topic of finding ways of using private operators for different services.

“It goes beyond the Department of Corrections,” said State Sen. Jim West, R-Spokane.

“It’s the question of effective government. But I don’t expect things to change this next session,” West said.

Washington legislators two years ago asked for a study examining what savings could be made through privatizing prisons.

The study, prepared by the Legislative Budget Committee that West served on, reached two conclusions:

Private prison operations could save money, but not without careful planning and state oversight; and the main barrier is a state law, passed in 1983.

That law said no state jobs could be shifted from union positions to non-union ones.

“I’m sure some legislators will begin raising discussions on changing that law,” West said.

But he’s not predicting it will become a major legislative issue. “We have (Gov.-elect) Gary Locke already saying that he’d veto any change in that law. So it’s doubtful we’ll go through the trouble of getting people all upset about that change, only to face a veto.”

, DataTimes MEMO: See related story under headline: Prison system may go private

See related story under headline: Prison system may go private


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