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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Washington lawmakers consider bills to standardize sick leave, minimum wage

OLYMPIA – The Washington Legislature should standardize the state’s minimum wage and sick leave laws to avoid a growing number of workplace standards, business representatives told a Senate panel Monday. But they didn’t agree on the best way to do it.

Labor and union officials, meanwhile, criticized a plan to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour over four years and to phase in minimum sick leave in 2018 as “too little, too late.”

Washington has a patchwork of labor laws in different cities, with five different sets of minimum wage standards and four different paid sick leave requirements, including one approved last week in Spokane over a mayoral veto.

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee considered two proposals that would standardize both.

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, offered a plan to raise the minimum wage each year from the current $9.47 to $12 an hour by 2021 and to phase in paid sick and family leave starting at three days per year in 2018. Hobbs said it has things neither party will like but both could work with.

“We have to do something, otherwise an initiative will be forced on us,” he said.

Holly Chisa, of the Northwest Grocery Association, supports Hobbs’ bill, saying it is time to have a “common sense” discussion about the differences between cities for companies that have operations around the state. Such companies might have employees who work in different cities with different wage standards.

But Mark Johnson, of the Washington Retail Association, opposed Hobbs’ bill and urged the panel to steer clear of any increase in the minimum wage. His members support “a free-market economy,” and any increase would artificially inflate starting wages.

A separate proposal by Committee Chairman Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, would bar cities from increasing the local minimum wage or requiring businesses to offer paid sick leave. That could only be done by the state or by a county government to prevent a “patchwork” of rules from one city to the next.

Spokane City Councilwoman Candace Mumm traveled to Olympia to defend the council’s recent decision on family and medical leave, but time ran out in the 30 minutes allotted to the two bills before she could testify. If she’d had a chance, she would have urged the panel not to repeal a city’s ability to care for the health of its residents, she said in a later interview.

“We had to step up because the state hasn’t,” Mumm said.

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