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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: Recent proposal to ban abortion is a ‘hero’ bill

Jim Camden

OLYMPIA – In the Legislature, this is the time of heroes.

Not the kind that vote for legislation even though they know it could cost them their re-election, or against something that is popular but ill advised.

In politics, the term hero can have a negative connotation, rather than a positive one.

As in “a hero bill” – one that’s designed to curry favor with a segment of the public, but has no chance of passing.

House Bill 2154, filed by four legislators on March 21, is such a bill. It would ban all abortions in the state. That by itself doesn’t make it a hero bill, even though Washington voters legalized abortion in the state three years before the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade.

Voters have essentially codified Roe v. Wade in state law through an initiative in 1991, and rejected an effort to cut off public funding for abortions in 1984. But those factors don’t make HB 2154 a hero bill.

Voters also rejected a 1998 initiative to make any abortion that wasn’t performed to save the life of a mother a felony. HB 2154 goes farther, declaring that as soon as a human sperm fuses with a human ovum, life begins and that fertilized egg has all the rights of any other human person, and all the power of the state, the federal government and, apparently, the Declaration of Independence behind him or her. But that, by itself, doesn’t make it a hero bill.

It goes farther than other states that are considering bans on abortion at six weeks of gestation, when a heart beat can be heard, or at 14 or 18 weeks, said Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks such legislation.

“I haven’t seen bills with this kind of language,” she said.

If you are philosophically opposed to abortion, you might be suspicious of the Guttmacher Institute, but be pleased with that assessment. So you might consider the four legislators who sponsored the bill – Republican Reps. Matt Shea, Vicki Kraft, Brad Klippert and Jesse Young – to be heroes to the cause. But that’s not what makes this a hero bill.

What makes it a hero bill is the timing. Outlawing abortion would be a major policy change in Washington. Some people would say it’s definitely a policy that should change. They might not all go as far as HB 2154, but they’d definitely be up for a chance to argue their position.

But HB 2154 was introduced a month after the deadline passed for having a bill debated by the committee in charge of health care issues. And eight days after it would have had to pass the House and be sent to the Senate for further consideration.

In other words, this bill has no chance of getting a hearing or a vote, even setting aside the political reality that a Democratic-controlled Legislature that won’t cut back on state funding for abortion in certain cases isn’t going to outlaw all abortions and make it a felony to perform one.

But like all hero bills, it can be cited by sponsors in newsletters and speeches to constituents or like-minded individuals (who might also be donors) as something they tried to do to advance the pro-life agenda back in Olympia, possibly without mentioning that it was headed for the limbo of languishing legislation the second it was introduced.

It will still be on the books when the Legislature comes back in 2020. But don’t bet on it getting any farther then.

Extra med students?

Washington State University Spokane officials are planning to up the incoming class at the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine from 60 to 80 starting this year. But the legislative budgets released last week don’t include the $3.6 million to help pay for those students.

Both budgets have $11 million to pay for the third and fourth years of the students currently in the college. Well, duh, you might say because it’s a four-year program. Except because of the way the state budgets, it wasn’t. So that money had to be added. But that’s another story.

But there’s still a ray of hope for money to expand the first-year classes from a slightly different source. The House is considering a change to the business and occupation tax for certain businesses that need lots of college graduates, to be used for student aid and other college programs. It would raise about $427 million over the next two years, and there’s a possibility that an amendment could be added to that proposal to spend $3.6 million of that on the extra med students.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, R-Spokane, says it is by no means a sure thing.

“This is just the start of the conversation,” Riccelli said. But at least it’s part of the conversation.