Democrats in Olympia push through governor’s “green” agenda and public health care coverage bills. Union-protection measure awaits final vote.

Apr 12, 2019

Governor Inslee is out of the state this week on an east coast campaign tour, but Democrats in Washington’s Legislature are working to pass key bills on his agenda.

On Thursday, the state House debated SB 5116, the governor’s sweeping proposal to move the state to what he calls a “clean-energy” economy.  Under the bill, Washington’s electric utilities would have to eliminate all coal-fired energy sources by 2025, and by 2045 would have to get 100 percent of retail electricity generation from non-carbon and renewable resources.

The bill passed the state Senate on March 1st by a party-line 28-19 vote—the same day Governor Inslee announced his campaign for U.S. President.  Republican senators argued that Washington utilities already rely heavily on clean hydroelectric power and that the bill’s provisions would really only result in additional costs and rate increases imposed on consumers. House Republicans offered similar arguments, along with more than a dozen amendments, which were rejected by majority Democrats.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 56-42, with only one Democrat, Rep. Brian Blake (D-Aberdeen) voting against it. The bill will now be reconciled with the senate-passed version and sent to the governor for his signature upon his return to Olympia.

Another key item on the governor’s agenda is the so-called “public option” socialized health care coverage measure, SB 5526. This bill would create subsidized state-funded public health plans managed by regulated insurance companies. It would require the State Insurance Commissioner and the Health Care Authority to set up the socialized plans by 2021.

These plans would be available through the state’s health care exchange to all residents, but the state would pay subsidies to individuals with incomes of up to five times the poverty level. Premiums would be limited to no more than ten percent of adjusted gross income, and payments to doctors and other health care providers would be restricted to Medicare-level limits.

The bill passed the Senate last month by a 36-13 vote, after a House version of the proposal, HB 1523, passed the House on a 57-41 party-line vote. The final proposal of the bill was incorporated in SB 5526 and passed the House on Wednesday by a 54-38 vote, with six members excused.

Changes to the bill made by the House will have to be approved by the Senate before it goes to the governor for his signature.

Last month, House Democrats passed HB 1575, which would bar public employees from seeking refunds of fees they were wrongly forced to pay to government unions. In the “Janus” case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to require public employees who are not members to pay fees to the union.  This bill says workers cannot get their money back by providing that public employers and public employee unions are not required to return union fees that were deducted prior to the Court’s ruling.

The bill passed the House on a partisan 57-41 vote and came up for debate and vote by the full Senate yesterday. After hours of contentious debate, Senate Democrats postponed the final vote for action later today or in the next few days.

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