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Monday, February 17, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

State’s Sick-Leave Buyout Policy Comes Under Attack

By Lynda V. Mapes

Lawmakers looking to save a few bucks need look no further than the state’s sick-leave buyout policy.

“People are using this thing like some kind of Christmas bonus,” grumbled state Sen. James West, R-Spokane.

The policy was meant to save taxpayers money by encouraging essential employees to come to work so other workers don’t have to be paid overtime to replace them if they are sick and miss work.

Trouble is, those essential employees aren’t making the heaviest use of the sick-leave buyout program. “Instead, the program tends to be used by higher-paid employees who do not usually need to be replaced when they are absent,” a state study found.

The buyout program should be ended, said the authors of the study, written for the Legislative Budget Committee.

Taxpayers could save a bundle if the program were fixed or scrapped. Its cost in the last biennium alone was $11 million, according to the study.

Democrats, the object of so much Republican scorn, bit back Friday.

House Democratic leaders called a press conference to dress down the GOP, charging it with slamming bills through the Legislature without even knowing what’s in them.

“Interview some freshmen and see if they’ll look you in the eye and tell you they read the bill they just voted ‘yes’ on,” said Rep. Marlin Appelwick, D-Seattle, House minority floor leader.

The GOP has kept up a blistering pace. Just two weeks into the 105-day legislative session, committees have passed a sweeping property rights initiative, a regulatory reform bill Democrats say will cost $100 million, property tax cuts worth $97 million, a cut in the business and occupation tax worth $90 million a year and a bill that requires tougher penalties for armed criminals.

Some of the bills have been passed out of committee without fiscal notes analyzing their costs. The property rights initiative was passed before even being certified for the Legislature’s consideration and while an investigation was being conducted by the secretary of state into whether some of the petition signatures had been faked.

Democrats are crying foul. “It’s much easier to sloganeer than to govern,” said Rep. Lisa Brown of Spokane.

“They aren’t interested in the facts; they aren’t interested in public testimony; they’ve already decided what the outcome is and they just want to jam the bills,” Appelwick said.

But House Republicans say they’re just doing what the voters want. And some back home are cheering them on:

“They know they came here with a mandate, and if the Democrats don’t understand that, they will find themselves out on their ear,” said Kate McCaslin, a GOP party activist and political consultant in Spokane.

“The voters made a statement in November: no more business as usual. And that’s what they are getting. Republicans are making good on that promise.”

Things are heating up in the health care reform wars.

The folks who brought you Initiative 602, the failed tax rollback plan in 1993, are taking on health care.

Jerry Blome, a Maple Valley, Wash., small-business owner and employer of seven, filed a health care initiative last week, which will be sponsored by the Committee to Limit Taxes, sponsors of I-602.

The new initiative would repeal most of the 1993 health care reform act and put in its place a measure to codify existing insurance reforms restricting the use of pre-existing conditions to limit health care coverage and the ability to take coverage from job to job.

Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are bashing lobbyists for radio ads last week that, they say, distorted the record on health care and targeted lawmakers who support health care reform for defeat by drying up campaign contributions.

Sen. John Moyer, R-Spokane, has called for a ceasefire. “Indulging in rhetoric is a vapid exercise, and I hope we stop.”

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