Senate narrowly passes mandatory health plan coverage for abortion. Republican lawmakers urge more car-tab tax cuts.

Feb 2, 2018

Today is the last day for bills to be voted out of committee in their originating chambers. The cutoff day for budget and transportation measures is next Tuesday. Lawmakers have been busy all week moving a large number of bills through the committee process, but they did take some time for floor action as well, passing dozens of bills. Most of these were noncontroversial and passed by unanimous or near unanimous votes.

Passing by much narrower margins were a number of more controversial measures, including new health insurance coverage requirements (HB 1523), revising child passenger restraint systems (HB 1188), allowing the use of medical marijuana by school children (HB 1060), and providing for student loan debt relief (HB 1169).

On Wednesday, the Senate passed SB 6219, to require state health insurance plans that cover maternity services to also pay for elective abortions. The bill would also mandate coverage for all contraceptive drugs, devices, products and services, as well as voluntary sterilization with no co-payments or deductibles.

The bill passed 26-22 along mostly party lines, with one Republican, Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn voting yes. Republican amendments during floor debate that would prohibit coverage of elective abortions for gender or sexual orientation selection, and for the abortion of a fetus with Down Syndrome were rejected.

An amendment by Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, to confirm that individuals possess a right to exercise their religious beliefs, and that religious or sectarian employers cannot be required to pay for services or products to which they object for reasons of conscience or religion was also rejected.

The bill is now before the House Health Care and Wellness Committee for further consideration. Similar legislation passed the Democrat-controlled House in previous sessions but had not advanced in the Senate, which at that time was controlled by a Republican-led majority coalition.

In a news conference on Thursday, Republican leaders from both the House and the Senate urged a continued effort to reduce the new car-tab taxes charged by Sound Transit.  The House recently passed HB 2201 by a 60-37 vote, providing for a modest cut of the tax by revising the formula used by Sound Transit for calculating the vehicle values on which the tax is based. The existing formula is based on inflated values, leading to higher taxes, for newer cars.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, and Rep. Mark Harmsworth, R-Mill Creek, who hosted the news conference, discussed Sound Transit-related legislation that includes cutting car-tab taxes by 55 percent (SB 6303), requiring direct elections of Sound Transit Board members (SB 6301), and forcing Sound Transit to go back to taxpayers for approval if the agency spends more than the $54 billion budgeted for the “ST3” project approved by voters in 2016 (SB 6465).  These bills are currently before the Senate Transportation Committee. The sponsors have until Tuesday’s cutoff deadline to have their bills voted out of committee.

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