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Hobby Lobby to fuel RPA debate next year?

OLYMPIA – Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows some companies to refuse birth control coverage for employees is likely to add fuel to both sides of the Washington legislative controversies over the Reproductive Parity Act.

It probably won’t affect two other controversial cases that involve businesses and claims of religious freedom.

A priority for Gov. Jay Inslee and most legislative Democrats for the last two years, the Reproductive Parity Act would require any insurance plan that offers maternity care to also cover abortions. It easily passed the state House of Representatives this year and last, but died in the Senate where the ruling coalition is predominantly Republicans.

“I’m hoping that what this will do is urge the Legislature to pick (the legislation) up and pass it next year,” Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, prime sponsor of the Reproductive Parity Act, said of the court’s Hobby Lobby decision.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he doubted that the court’s decision will change any minds on either side of the issue, but it could cause both sides to step up efforts for or against the proposal: “Both sides have their share of passionate people.”

The Hobby Lobby involves forms of contraception that some people consider a form of abortion. The Reproductive Parity Act covers actual abortions, Padden said. “The position against the RPA is even stronger than the argument against abortion in the Hobby Lobby case,” he said.

Opponents of abortion will definitely use Monday’s decision to fight the proposal, Hobbs predicted, and supporters should take it as a sign that a woman’s right to decide to have an abortion is not “all worked out” even though that Supreme Court case is 40 years old. “I think this is a fight that will continue on a state-by-state basis.”

Hobbs said he will likely sponsor  a new version of the Reproductive Parity Act in the next session. Padden, who would lead a committee with jurisdiction over the proposal unless Democrats regain the majority, said he can’t decide at this point whether he’d schedule a hearing. “But I’m not a big fan of mandates,” he added.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the Hobby Lobby decision should have no impact on a court case in which some pharmacists don’t want to stock the morning-after birth control pill or a separate case in which a florist refused to serve a same-sex couple’s wedding. Religious freedom is cited in both cases, but they involve state laws, not the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act involved in Monday’s ruling, he said.

The court also said the Hobby Lobby decision doesn’t create a religious exception to anti-discrimination laws, Ferguson said. The state argues the florist case involves discrimination based on sexual orientation, which is illegal under Washington law. 

For comments about the Hobby Lobby decision from Northwest politicians, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 15: Senate majority flexes muscle

OLYMPIA — In the clearest example yet of what it means to have one more member of the Senate's ruling caucus, the Democratic chairman of a key committee was forced to share power with a newly elected Republican.

On 26-23 votes, the Majority Coalition Caucus restructured the Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee, to make Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, the co-chairwoman. She will share control of the committee with Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who was one of the few Democrats who agreed to take a committee chairmanship last year when the mostly Republican coalition took control of the chamber and offered some top spots to minority Democrats. 

Angel, a five-year veteran of the House, beat Democrat Nathan Schlicher last November, in a special election. Her victory gave Senate Republicans 24 seats, and with the two Democrats who helped form the Majority Coalition Caucus, 26 votes to the 23 for the remaining Democrats.

Hobbs, a moderate Democrat, said the change was payback for his support of several bills conservatives in the coalition oppose, including the Reproductive Parity Act, the Dream Act, and cost-of-living adjustments for teachers. Those bills have at least 25 senators who support them, but moderate members of the coalition won't buck their caucus to allow votes on them.

"It's a clear indication their caucus has moved to the right," Hobbs said. He supported Republican efforts to reform workers compensation last year, but said he might not do that again if there was no support for some of the social legislation. Moderates in the majority coalition told him they opposed the change but wouldn't break caucus unity to vote against it, he added. 

Senate Republican Caucus Chairwoman Linda Evans Parlette, of Wenatchee, insisted the move was merely an effort to take advantage of Angel's expertise on issues before the committee. She's a former commercial banker and real estate saleswoman and owner  of commercial and residential properties who has served as a county commissioner and a member of an Economic Development District's executive board.

"The Majority Coalition Caucus is centered just where they were last year," Parlette said, adding the committee is equally split and either Hobbs or Angel can veto a bill. 

To the suggestion that Hobbs might not join Republicans when they try again to pass changes to workers compensation system, Parlette replied: "If he chooses to vote differently, I would say 'Did you not believe in it last year?'"

To see the official statements from the two sides, or to comment, continue inside the blog.

 

Workers get ‘password protection’

OLYMPIA — Employers can't ask their current workers or job applicants for access to their social media accounts under a law signed Tuesday.

Sometimes called the "Facebook Bill", Senate Bill 5211 makes it illegal for an employer to request a worker or a job applicant for the login information to a social media account or to make the employee access the account with the employer present. An employee or applicant can't be required to add someone to a contact list or change the settings to give a third party access to the account.

Sen. Steven Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said Washington is the eighth state to have such a bill. "Privacy shouldn't be a thing of the past that we are forced to sacrifice every time technology moves forward."

After signing the bill, Gov. Jay Inslee said it was a solid step for protecting people's privacy today.

"We do have to realize that technology changes so fast that we may turn around tomorrow and find circumstances where people are not adequately protected by it, from new technologies we haven't even thought of yet," he said.

Becker: No vote on abortion coverage bill

OLYMPIA —  Supporters of the controversial Reproductive Parity Act say they have enough votes to pass it in the Senate, but they may not get the chance.

The chairwoman of the committee that held a two-hour hearing on the bill said Monady afternoon she will not schedule a vote on it, meaning the bill will die without further parliamentary maneuvering.

Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville and the chairwoman of the Senate Health Care Committee, said some four hours after the hearing she will not schedule a vote on the bill. Becker, who refused to hear a Senate version of the bill earlier in the year, said she fulfilled a pledge to hold a hearing on the House version after the bill passed the other chamber.

Some people consider the bill unnecessary because all health insurance companies offer abortion coverage, Becker said. Others, including U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, say it could jeopardize federal health care funds by violating a law that protects some groups from being forced to buy insurance that violates their religious principles.

The bill mentions exemptions for what's known as the conscience clause in three different places, but opponents said it contradicts those exemptions with other language that says an employee cannot be denied abortion coverage. 

"The fact is that at this point, House Bill 1044 is a solution in search of a problem," Becker said in a prepared statement to announce she wouldn't schedule a committee vote on the bill. Wednesday is a deadline for the bill to get voted out of the committee to continue moving through the regular process.  

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens and a sponsor of the bill, told the committee Monday he had 25 signatures on a letter saying they would vote for it if it came to the Senate floor. That would be enough to pass it and send it to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has said he would sign it.

 To do that, however, they'd have to hold together and try bringing the bill to the floor through a parliamentary procedure. Among the 25 signers to the letter is Sen. Rodney Tom, of Medina, the Democrat who leads the mostly Republican majority coalition that controls the chamber and opposes the bill.

Abortion coverage bill faces deadline

OLYMPIA — As abortion-rights groups and their legislative allies try to force a vote on a bill that would expand requirements for insurance companies to cover the procedure, a Washington congresswoman is warning President Obama the proposal violates federal laws.

The Senate Health Care Committee held a two-hour hearing Monday morning on the House version of the Reproductive Parity Act, with regular supporters and foes of abortion lining up on the expected side of the bill that would require most insurance plans that offer maternity benefits to cover abortion, too.

There were dueling religious leaders. Seattle Archbishop Peter Sartain argued the bill, if passed, would make insurance coverage of abortion mandatory in Washington, even for employers with religious objections to abortion. Rabbi Seth Goldstein of Olympia said the bill should be passed to provide "freedom of religion and freedom from religion.

There were dueling leaders from women's groups. Elaine Rose of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest acknowledged that nearly every insurance plan offered in Washington covers insurance, and the bill was designed to "keep it that way" as federal health care reform proceeds. Angela Connolly of tlhe Washington Women's Network called the bill "anti-woman" because it forces them to accept a health care plan that forces them to "participate in what they see as violence against women."

Health Care Committee Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, sometimes had to remind speakers to stick to the bill rather than veering into some of the bigger controversies over abortion, such as when one abortion foe started discussing policies of Nazi Germany.

In the hearing room, Sen. Mike Padden released a copy of a letter, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers sent Monday to Obama saying the bill has "far-reaching and alarming conseqluences for the citizens of Washington state who embrace life."

McMorris Rodgers, a Republican from Eastern Washington's 5th District, said the bill does not satisfy federal restrictions on "conscience rights", or the protection to allow people who have religions objections to abortion to opt out of insurance plans. That could  jeoparize federal funds for welfare, jobs and education, she said, adding she "looks forward to working with you as both Congress and Administration fullfill our constitutional rols to uphold and enforce…conscience protections."

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, who sponsored a Senate version of the proposal that did not get a hearing in the committee, also had a letter, one signed by 25 senators enough promising to vote for the bill it if it comes to the floor.  That would be enough to pass it and send it to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has promised to sign it.

But the easy way to a floor vote comes if the bill passes out of the Health Care Committee by Wednesday, a deadline for bills from one chamber to pass the panel holding the hearing in the other chamber. Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, wanted the committee to vote on the bill after Monday morning's hearing. But as testimony finished, with Keiser saying "Madam chairwoman, madam chairwoman," Becker gavelled the panel to adjournament without a vote. 

The committee has a meeting on Tuesday morning, however, to consider votes on any of  the House bills it has heard over the last month.

No smoking in cars with kids and other proposals in the early legislative mix…

Yeah, it’s all about the budget this year, but there’s some interesting — if short-lived — stuff going on in the margins:

Wary Christmas: Just weeks after the contentious battle-of-the-holiday-placards between Christians and an atheist group in the state capitol’s third floor, Rep. Jim McCune, R-Graham, has introduced House Bill 1301, which would declare any conifer erected in the capitol rotunda during December to be “the official Christmas tree of the state of Washington.” 
Remember your mailbox in October? Sen. Ken Jacobsen, D-Seattle, wants to require anyone mailing out a political ad to file a copy with the archives. (SB 5096)
Airline passengers’ bill of rights:
Jacobsen also wants to require airlines to provide food, water and clean bathrooms to people stuck on the ground in planes. He also wants to create a new state “airline consumer advocate” to investigate complains and seek refunds of up to $1,000 per person. (SE 5068)
Moles beware:
In the latest round of a long dispute between ranchers struggling with coyotes and suburban homeowners dismayed at lawn damage, Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, wants to create an exception to the state’s anti-trapping law. Under Senate Bill 5123, traps used to kill moles would be declared OK.
-Driving in a cloud: Rep. Brendan Williams, D-Olympia, wants to make it illegal to smoke in a car containing anyone under the age of 18. (HB 1151)
-Best Friends Forever: Jacobsen’s SB 5063 would allow people to have their deceased pets buried alongside them in the family’s cemetery plot. (No horses, though – the bill only covers dogs and cats.)
The Birdman of Olympia:
Washington already has a state climatologist and a state poet. Jacobsen – an avid fan of bird-watching – thinks it’s time we had a state ornithologist. Among this person’s tasks: helping teach the public about bird-feeding and designing bird-friendly yards. (SB 5066)
-Kids in cars
: Sen. Dale Brandland, R-Bellingham, wants to make it illegal to leave a child under 12 in an unattended car. (This is already illegal for anyone under 16 if the engine is running.) A second violation would be a misdemeanor. (Senate Bill 5126.)
-Hold the bags: Rep. Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline, wants to ban free shopping bags unless they’re compostable, recyclable or thick and reuseable. (HB 1189)
-But paper bags are OK: Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, and other timber-area lawmakers want to ban cities and counties from trying to charge shoppers for a bag – so long as it’s made of paper. (HB 1154)
-Hold the art: Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, and half a dozen mostly-Republican lawmakers have proposed a two-year break from the public building requirement that half of 1 percent of the project’s cost be spent on art. (SB 5163).
-A state income tax: Entitled “An Act Relating to Fiscal Reform,” Senate Bill 5104 would set up a state income tax ranging from 2.2 percent to 6 percent, with the highest rate applying to anyone with taxable income of more than about $60,000 a year. The proposal comes from Sen. Rosa Franklin, D-Tacoma. The change would require that voters also agree to amend the state constitution, which Franklin included in a separate measure, SJR 8205.
-Hiking brightly: Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, wants to require all hikers in recreation areas to wear bright orange clothing during hunting season. Hikers in regular clothes would be subject to a fine. (HB 1116)