OLYMPIA – Relations between the Legislature and city governments are often touchy, and between one Spokane legislator and the Spokane City Council they are particularly so.
Not terribly surprising, considering Republican Sen. Mike Baumgartner drafted a bill that would have undone a Spokane ordinance requiring many businesses to offer limited family and medical leave. Baumgartner filed the bill shortly after the City Council overrode Mayor David Condon’s veto of that ordinance.
The Baumgartner bill got a quick hearing, also not terribly surprising, considering it was assigned to the Commerce and Labor Committee, of which Baumgartner is chairman. But it had to share the agenda with several other controversial pieces of legislation as a deadline for all such bills was fast approaching. Baumgartner set aside a half hour for talking about his bill along with another that involved raising the state minimum wage, and limited testimony to 90 seconds per witness.
Time quickly ran down before everyone who wanted to speak got the chance. Among those waiting when the bell tolled was Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm, who had made the trip west to stick up for the leave ordinance in particular and the cities’ rights to pass such things in general.
“I felt like I was stood up on a blind date,” Mumm said later in the hallway, adding the council had to step up to the issue of family leave because the Legislature hadn’t.
The city also put out a press release in which she criticized Baumgartner for “giving priority” to lobbyists over local folks. “Cities and citizens should have an opportunity to speak at our State Capitol on issues that will affect them.”
Baumgartner said later he didn’t know Mumm was going to be in the audience, and if she had let his office know she was coming, he might have been able to accommodate her. But there were about 15 other people who wanted to speak, but didn’t, and they could all submit written testimony.
He also said there was “some irony” in criticism from a member of the council about limiting testimony, considering the council itself has come under fire for that at its meetings.
To be fair, the council’s new rule involves a once a month limit on speaking at the public free-for-all, er open forum, before and after official business, not on ordinances under consideration. Legislative committees as a rule do not let witnesses pop off on any subject at any time. There is at least one committee, however, where the chairwoman regularly does.
The amended version of the bill, passed by the committee later in the week, grandfathered in existing laws like the Spokane leave ordinance, something Baumgartner said he expected all along.