Mandatory abortion coverage, supermajority to raise taxes, minimum wage bills headline this week’s action in the Legislature.

February 7, 2014

In floor action on Wednesday, the House passed HB 2148, to require insurers who offer maternity coverage to also cover elective abortions, by a mostly party-line vote of 54-44, with one Republican voting for it, and two Democrats voting against. To see who voted “Yes” and who voted “No,”  go to www.washingtonvotes.org and type in the bill number. The bill next goes to the Senate, but observers say chances for further action on the bill are slim.

 Also on Wednesday, the Senate voted on Senate Joint Resolution 8213, to put a constitutional amendment before Washington voters to require a two-thirds vote in the legislature to increase taxes. It takes a two-thirds majority of both the House and the Senate to pass the proposed amendment, but once on the ballot, it would only require a simple majority for approval.

SJR 8213 received 25 “yes “votes, short of the 33 required to pass, so the measure died. All Republicans voted for it, 21 Democrats voted against it, and three members were excused.

The deadline for moving non-fiscal bills out of committee in the house of origin is this Friday, February 7th, and committees in both chambers have held hearings and voted out legislation they consider a high priority.

The House Labor and Workforce Development Committee passed HB 2672, to raise the state minimum wage to $12 an hour over three years, by a vote of five to four, with majority Democrats voting for it.  The bill passed committee after a lengthy public hearing. Proponents said the raise would provide low-wage workers with more income to meet their needs, while opponents cautioned that artificially raising costs in the labor market would have a detrimental effect on jobs and small businesses. The bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

The committee also heard testimony on HB 2614, which would allow employers to pay a lower wage to new, entry-level employees for a limited time, but did not act on this bill.

In the Senate, the Committee on Commerce and Labor passed SB 6307, to prevent local governments from approving minimum wages higher than the state standard. In testimony before the committee, proponents pointed out that one minimum wage in one place, and another in a different location would create bureaucratic problems, such as having to pay contract workers different rates in different localities—if, for example, they were driving delivery trucks.

Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle) in speaking against the bill said: “I appreciate the bureaucratic problems, but rather than dragging everybody down to the same level, I’d rather see us adopt the higher minimum wage statewide and raise everyone up to the higher level.” The bill was sent to the Rules Committee to be scheduled for a vote by the full Senate.