House Republicans’ mics cut off for pointing out union giveaway

Most eyes in Olympia this week were on the will-he-or-won’t-he veto drama on the legislative records bill – and deservedly so. Legislators took a gamble that voters wouldn’t care too much about this issue. They were wrong, and I hope it clarified for public officials around the state that people care about open government. Lesson learned.

That wasn’t the only issue of concern this week. Legislative Democrats continue to push a trio of bills on behalf of their union donors to work around current and upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decisions. On home health care workers specifically, about a third of whom are family members being paid through Medicaid to care for loved ones, legislative Democrats are working to keep them in the dark about their right to leave the Service Employees International Union 775 and to lock them in to continuing to pay dues or fees to the union.

The fact that SEIU is one of state Democrats’ largest donors is a crucial fact in this debate. I called the drive behind these bills “brazen power politics” – and it still stinks. Keeping dues money flowing from home care workers to SEIU keeps SEIU money flowing to Democratic legislators.

The bill House Democrats passed Thursday, SB 6199, will set up a dubious outside entity to oversee home care workers, all for the purpose of preventing these workers from exercising the rights they gained under Harris v. Quinn to leave SEIU. Moving these workers to a “private employer” means they won’t be “partial-public employees” under the Harris ruling and thus can be forced to pay representation fees to SEIU.

Bill must have fallen from the sky
To listen to the bill sponsors or SEIU leadership, they had hardly anything to do with the genesis of this bill. From union president David Rolf’s appearance on a Seattle Times podcast, you’d think his union is a bystander to this bill, not its architect.

Likewise Rep. Eileen Cody (D-Seattle), who really emphasized in debate Thursday that the relevant state agency, DSHS, requested this legislation – as if that means it is somehow above reproach and not an incredibly political union giveaway bill.

DSHS did request this bill – Gov. Inslee’s DSHS. SEIU has been coordinating with Inslee’s office to lock home care workers into paying dues since before the Harris decision was even handed down. Inslee worked closely with SEIU on this bill. Cody and other legislators did too. Why are we pretending otherwise?

This was a clear example of legislators striving on behalf of their close political ally and funder on a bill that solely benefits that ally. Not only does SB 6199 mean home care workers will have their right to leave SEIU taken away from them, it will actually cost the state more money to contract out the administration of these workers. This bill isn’t a benefit to taxpayers at all. SB 6199 benefits SEIU and the people who receive its donations – full stop.

Republicans denied chance to debate merits
House Republicans tried to use the House debate Thursday to actually debate the merits of the bill. Majority Democrats were determined to shut down that debate, showing extreme sensitivity to any argument that pointed out what was really going on here.

The Speaker gaveled down Republicans time and again, issuing warnings about “impugning members” by pointing out the strong political ties between SEIU and the majority party. Republicans were gaveled down for quoting a critical Seattle Times editorial. They were cut off for trying to read emails from home care workers who don’t their rights taken away from them. For merely mentioning SEIU, the sole direct beneficiary of SB 6199, members’ mics were turned off.

Is this any way to conduct debate in a democracy? “It’s so important for the minority party to be able to explain why we think a bill is a bad idea. That’s how we explain to the people our policy concerns, and try to make better laws,” Rep. Paul Graves (R-Fall City) wrote on Twitter. “Having our mics cut off, simply for expressing our concerns respectfully, is so wrong.”

House Republicans were so incensed at the way they were denied the chance to debate this bill openly, they actually refused to vote on the bill. After some tussling over House rules and whether the majority could list them as no votes despite not actually voting, the Speaker merely marked them all as absent.

“I had never felt worse about serving in the House of Representatives than I did [Thursday] night,” Rep. JT Wilcox (R-Yelm) said. The way the system is supposed to work, Wilcox points out, is that the majority can pass bills but is also supposed to listen to the minority’s objections.

That didn’t happen Thursday, just like it didn’t happen last week when legislators hastily passed the now-vetoed records bill. It’s no coincidence that it’s on the shadiest bills that legislative leadership is most interested in strangling debate.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.