Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The Columbian and Yakima Herald-Republic. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
By signing Senate Bill 6199 last week, Gov. Jay Inslee added a layer of bureaucracy and struck a blow against transparency in state government.
That is the simplistic explanation for political wrangling over home health care workers in the state. At its core, the bill sponsored by Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, caters to the Service Employees International Union at the expense of Washington residents. As Jim Camden of The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review wrote: “The argument pits Republicans and one of their strongest allies, the Freedom Foundation — an established foe of public-sector unions — against the Democrats and one of theirs, the powerful Service Employees International Union.”
Roughly 35,000 home health care providers currently contract with the state to serve the elderly and people with developmental disabilities. The workers are considered state employees when it comes to collective bargaining because they contract with the Department of Social and Health Services, but are not full-fledged public employees because they can be hired or fired by the people who receive services.
Following a 2014 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn, such quasi-public employees are not required to pay union dues. Since then, the Freedom Foundation and anti-union forces have worked to inform employees of their options in an effort to diminish the power of the union.
That is the background behind the bill, which seeks to protect the union by outsourcing the state’s contracting role to a private vendor. Adding that layer of bureaucracy will cost an estimated $11 million a year — not a large amount, but a needless expenditure that could be better spent if put toward services for people who require in-home care.
In addition, the new law could further sidestep disclosure rules and fulfill the desire of union supporters to obscure public information about employees. The goal is to halt efforts to contact employees with information regarding the option to avoid paying union dues. It also further reduces the public’s ability to hold government accountable at a time when the Legislature is under fire for untoward opaqueness.
Upon signing the bill, according to The (Tacoma) News Tribune, Inslee dismissed the underlying union debate and said the restructuring was “driven by efficiencies and a good way to serve people.” Those are laudable goals, but adding bureaucracy and expense rarely is an effective way to improve efficiency. It is difficult to view the matter as little more than pandering to public employee unions that typically support Democrats at election time.
The contentiousness of the issue could be found in the manner in which it passed the Legislature. The Senate passed the bill in a session that extended beyond midnight. When it came to the floor of the House, Republicans simply refused to vote; the official tally was 50 “yes” and 48 “absent.” While there might be no middle ground to be staked out, having the parties on opposite shores indicates that the public probably is not well-served by the new law.
Cleveland said: “We have the best in-home care delivery system in the nation because we provide long-term care for seniors in their homes. But as we have grown as a state, the administrative support for our best-in-the-nation system has not kept up with that growth.”
Improving that care and adjusting for growth should not require an ideological war in the Legislature, an end run around a Supreme Court decision or less government transparency. It should require only an expansion of the current system.
State’s Democrats may pay
price for gimmick on budget
The deliberative process really took a beating during this past session of the Washington Legislature. In February came the furor over Senate Bill 6617, which would have exempted legislators from the Public Records Act had not Gov. Jay Inslee heeded the chorus of 20,000 emails, phone calls and letters, almost all in opposition, and vetoed it. Much of the outcry centered on how lawmakers rushed it through in two days with no committee hearings and an “emergency” clause.
A similar problem afflicts SB 6614, which was approved in the rush to adjourn on time in early March.
The intention is noble and popular with constituents: provide financial relief to those whose property taxes spiked as a result of the Legislature’s effort to meet the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling on school funding. The increase, approved in 2017 and starting with payments due at the end of this month, is hitting especially hard in Seattle and its suburbs, areas with high property values.
On top of that, the court ruled last November that the state wasn’t moving quickly enough to fund teachers salaries. To that end, majority Democrats in the most recent session pushed through $776 million in the supplemental budget.