State House Moves To Require Paid Sick Leave, While Senate Heads in Opposite Direction

Those searching for a stark reminder of just how different the state House of Representatives and Senate are need look no further than recent legislative efforts in both bodies that, if enacted, stand to greatly impact Washington’s low-wage workforce.

In the state House of Representatives Wednesday a bill that would provide access to earned paid sick time was passed. HB 1313, according to the press release, would establish “minimum standards for earned paid sick and safe time,” while protecting “1 million Washington workers who do not currently have access to paid sick days.” With prime sponsor Rep. Laurie Jinkins behind it, HB 1313 afford employees the opportunity to earn five to nine sick days, depending on the employer’s size, and would “bring new sick leave protection to hundreds of thousands of workers including 140,000 in accommodation and food service, 150,000 in retail and 90,000 in health care and social assistance.” The bill exempts small employers with less than four employees.

As you’ll recall, back in 2012 Seattle enacted its own paid sick-leave law, requiring business that operate within the city to offer paid sick time to employees.

According to Jinkins, her motivations for the bill are rooted in public health concerns and also “inequality reasons.” She says HB 1313 is designed to protect “some of our lowest paid workers.”

“They’re having to decide, should I stay home with my sick child, and am I not going to be able to put food on my table at the end of the week?” says Jinkins of the plight of low-wage workers facing illness. “That’s just not OK.”

Meanwhile, the state Senate—which is controlled by a conservative coalition—seems hellbent on moving in the other direction. State Sen. John Braun’s SB 6307, which would prohibit local municipalities from creating minimum wages that differ from the state’s minimum wage and also from forcing private employers to offer work leave benefits beyond what the state requires, received a hearing in the Senate Committee on Commerce & Labor Wednesday. Judging by the makeup of the Senate, and the fact Braun was able to push a similar effort through last year, it seems likely SB 6307 will pass. Braun’s bill would effectively nix the minimum wage hike in SeaTac approved by voters last November, any such effort in Seattle this year, and also Seattle’s paid sick leave law from 2012.

“What Seattle does, or what SeaTac does, or Chehalis does, does not stop at the city limits,” Braun told Q13’s C.R. Douglas earlier this month. “When you talk about an integrated economy like we have,” Braun said, “I think this is a complex issue and deserves a statewide discussion.”

The thing about both these efforts, of course, is they’ll likely die upon crossing over to their opposing legislative bodies. The House is highly unlikely to sign off on an effort like Braun’s, and Jinkin’s paid sick-leave bill surely awaits the same fate once it hits the Senate.

“I think it’s a tough road in the Senate,” says Jinkins of her bill’s future, admitting that the chances it reaches the Governor’s desk are “pretty remote.”

However, she also says: “I always hold out hope that people will do the right thing. And to me this is so obviously the right thing.”

You’ve got to admire Jinkins’ hopeful outlook.

Of course, this is only her fourth January in Olympia.

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