On Thursday evening, tensions on the House floor reached a breaking point as Republican Representatives refused to vote on a piece of legislation that would restructure contracting for in-home care providers. After hours of debate on the floor, Republican members withheld their votes, saying that the debate was censored and one-sided.
The bill in question, SB 6199, would reorganize the way the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) works with individual providers who provide in-home health services for people who need care assistance. Currently, these care providers contract with DSHS directly and are considered “partial-public employees,” meaning they can opt out of union membership. Rather than hiring these individuals directly, the bill authorizes the DSHS to contract through a private third party “consumer directed employer,” that would then become the care provider’s legal employer and engage in collective bargaining on their behalf. By shifting from “partial-public employees” to private employees, these care providers will be required to pay union dues.
While Republicans argued that the union dues and agency fees would place a burden on care providers, Democrats said that the bill would actually benefit them by reducing the administrative demands of their jobs.
However, the key point of contention, and the one that eventually brought floor debate to a halt, was the Republicans’ assertion that the bill has little to do with benefiting care workers, and everything to do with passing legislation that benefits SEIU, the labor union that Rep. JT Wilcox says donated thousands of dollars to House Democrats during the last election cycle.
“This whole bill is a tortured attempt to veil something that we’re not allowed to talk about now on the House floor,” said Rep. Vincent Buys during the debate.
Representative Cary Condotta also alluded to this, before being gaveled into silence by Speaker Pro Tempore John Lovick.
“I think you don’t have to look any further than the PDC to find out what the real reason is behind this..”
Following Rep. Condotta’s remarks, Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen voiced his frustration, saying,
“We’re being censored as a legislature about talking about this policy and where the money goes? It makes no sense to me. How are we going to go home tonight and look in the mirror when we know, based on the thousands of employees we are talking about, that we are talking about millions of dollars that are going to a [single] union… I cannot believe, in all of the years that I’ve been here, that we’ve been reduced to this.”
In a Facebook video posted Friday morning, Republican House Floor Leader JT Wilcox said yesterday was one of the most unique days on the floor he had ever experienced.
“I have never felt worse about serving in the House of Representatives than I did last night,” said Wilcox. “We were not allowed to have a debate on the floor. We spent four hours getting gaveled repeatedly. We tried reading a Seattle Times editorial and were gaveled for reading the editorial. We tried reading letters from actual home health care workers who this bill directly affects… we were told backstage that this was unacceptable, that we couldn’t say things that were germane to the debate because they would somehow inflame passions.
Well folks, when you’re in the minority, your job is to debate, and if you can’t do that, you’re not doing your job.”
The bill ended up passing by a vote of 50-0, with 48 representatives listed as “excused.”