February 15, 2008 Volume 109 Number 4

Labor battling in Washington Legislature — sometimes with Ds

Washington labor leaders are doing battle in the State Legislature in Olympia. Sometimes it’s with Democrats.

When it comes to health care, the most common sense reforms often run aground if monied stakeholders are opposed to it. Case in point this month is a “prescription privacy bill” backed by a coalition that includes the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. The bill (HB 2664 in the House and SB 6241 in the Senate) would restrict pharmaceutical companies from purchasing physicians’ prescribing histories for marketing purposes. WSLC reports that the bill is in trouble. A large majority of House Democrats support the bill, but it will not get to the House floor unless they can show that 50 Democrats are on board. A media campaign was planned for this week targeting Democrats who seem to be favoring the pharmaceutical lobby on this issue. Two were in Southwest Washington: Vancouver Representative Deb Wallace (D-Dist. 17) was reportedly opposed to the bill, while Rep. Bill Fromhold District 49 (D-Clark County) had concerns and questions about it. WSLC is asking constituents to call their representatives.

Several other health care reforms are part of the package the coalition is pushing. One (SB 5261) would give the state insurance commissioner the ability to review any rate increases proposed by health insurance companies. That bill passed the Senate Jan. 31 by 31-18; a companion bill (HB 1234) is being taken up by the House. Another proposal would create a committee to envision the future of health care in Washington, which would come back with a proposal for lawmakers to consider.

The Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council is also pushing a set of bills, including one aimed at reviving career and technical education in Washington high schools. High schools would be encouraged to start programs in high demand, high wage fields like construction.

On the employment front, labor is supporting a green jobs measure proposed by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The bill would provide more than $7 million in the next five years for workforce training and education programs to increase so-called “green-collar” jobs. The sector employs about 12,000 Washingtonians now, and backers say they want to triple that number by 2020. SB 6516 and its companion measure HB 2815 have each been approved in committee.

Feb. 12 was the midpoint for the 60-day legislative session, and bills not approved by committee the previous week were considered moot. On Feb. 19 another deadline arrives: Bills must clear their chamber of origin.


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