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House committee shuts off debate on controversial SEIU proposal

During a contentious public hearing on Tuesday morning, the Washington State House Health Care and Wellness Committee cut off debate on SB 6199 — a controversial proposal that would permit SEIU 775 to again force Medicaid-paid individual provider homecare aides (IPs) to pay union dues or fees — preventing several opponents of the bill from testifying.

The bill would direct the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to contract out administration of the IP program to a private vendor. It would also make IPs, most of whom care for family members, employees of the new “consumer-directed employer.” As such, IPs would no longer have the protections of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Harris v. Quinn which established that, as “partial-public employees,” IPs could not be required to financially support a labor union against their will. Numerous newspapers in Washington have editorialized against the measure, noting that it would create a needless layer of bureaucracy and cost taxpayers millions annually for no other reason than to curry favor with the unions that represent caregivers – and funnel dues-money to labor-friendly lawmakers.

“SB-6199 has too many problems to list,” said Loren Michael Freeman, an Olympia IP who cares for his daughter. “It would complicate the lives of families like mine, waste taxpayer dollars and take rights away from both clients and caregivers. If the Legislature doesn’t have time to hear from the people this bill would affect, it has no business moving it forward.”

SEIU 775, the union representing IPs, sought Gov. Jay Inslee’s support for privatizing the IP system back in 2014 as a way to side-step Harris. With Democrats in full control of the state legislature for the first time since the court decision, Inslee and DSHS formally requested the legislation this year.

The House Health Care and Wellness Committee is chaired by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle) — a former SEIU employee. She also sponsored HB-2963, a House version of the bill identical to SB-6199.

While SB-6199 was scheduled to be the sixth bill heard in committee, it ended up being heard last. No time limit was imposed on speakers offering public testimony until just before the bill was heard, when a 90-second limit was adopted. All four individuals supporting the bill were permitted to testify, including representatives from DSHS, the Area Agencies on Aging, and SEIU 775. Two persons signed in as “neutral/other” were permitted to testify, as were two IPs opposed to the bill.

However, at least three IPs who opposed the bill and the Freedom Foundation were denied an opportunity to testify, according to committee documents.

“It’s frustrating to wait in a hearing room for two hours only to be prevented from testifying,” said Tammy, an individual provider caring her son who opposes the bill. “I see SB-6199 as another spoke in the wheel, more confusion, added stress, money taken from my home and a constitutional right to make my own choices about union membership taken from me.”

“The more the word gets out about how SB-6199 will cost taxpayers while harming caregivers and their families, the more concern there is,” said Freedom Foundation’s director of labor policy Maxford Nelsen. “It’s unacceptable that legislative leadership is more interested in ramming this through to benefit their political supporters than they are in listening to the concerns of the people who actually have to live under the policies the legislature implements.”

SB-6199 was passed by the state Senate along largely party lines and now awaits a full vote in the House.

More information about the legislation is available here: