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A truce in nurses v. hospitals
Plus middle housing, Amazon warehouses, PSE's no-more-gas plan, and some recommended reading
Editor’s Note: Today is the house-of-origin cutoff, which means most bills that haven’t passed either the House or the Senate by the end of the day — there are more than 100 proposals on the floor calendars — will be dead for the year. Today we're looking at some narrow escapees from that fate. We’ll have the casualties on Friday. Want to hash over the aftermath in person with an adult beverage in hand? Consider joining us at the Observer’s post-cutoff gathering next week in Olympia. Details are here.
One of the hairiest labor vs. management conflicts of this year’s session — the nurses-vs.-hospitals thing we’ve written about before — appears to have been hugged out, thanks in part to a former political target of the nurses.
A compromise version of Senate Bill 5236 passed the Senate on Monday by a wide bipartisan margin, just a few days after it nearly died in the Ways & Means Committee. The bill, aimed at easing overwork and burnout among nurses and nursing assistants in hospitals, is one of organized labor’s biggest priorities of the year.
The compromise version eschews the original approach of mandating nurse-to-patient ratios statewide in favor of beefing up the existing system, in which staffing plans are set by committees at individual hospitals. Under the bill sponsored by Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, nurses would have more say in formulating those plans. On the back end, the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Industries would have increased power to fine and otherwise sanction hospitals for failing to abide by their plans.
In theory, that means the regulatory unpleasantness will fall on hospitals that are genuinely crosswise with their nurses, rather than on all hospitals. Hospitals, particularly rural hospitals, had warned that staffing ratios would worsen an existing nursing shortage and force them to stop offering some crucial services.
Larger hospitals would be required to report when they fall out of compliance with their staffing plans. For fans of the nuances of legislative dealmaking, the hospitals exempted from that reporting requirement make for interesting reading. It includes a couple of categories of rural hospitals and “hospitals located on an island operating within a public hospital district in Skagit County,” a description that fits just one hospital, Island Health in Anacortes.Sen. Liz Lovelett, D-Anacortes, was one of the bill’s sponsors.
But perhaps the most interesting element in this deal is one of the dealmakers. In a press release applauding the deal, the nursing unions made a point of calling out Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah.Less than three years ago, those unions and others spent some $2 million trying to defeat Mullet’s reelection from the left in a Democrat-on-Democrat showdown.
The bill passed 35-13, with eight Republicans voting yes. The lone Democratic “no” vote came from Sen. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, who, along with Mullet, helped scuttle last year’s version over concerns about its impact on the small hospitals in his sprawling Olympic Peninsula district.
Middle housing passes with assorted carve-outs
The middle housing bill we’ve written about survived the House, but with substantial carve-outs for local governments keen on killing it.
House Bill 1110 from Rep. Jessica Bateman, D-Olympia, is a popular pick among the myriad ideas to increase the supply of housing. The original bill was a blueprint to create more housing around public transit, broaden the types of housing that neighborhoods can permit, and beat down housing prices by shoring up the housing supply.
That means building stuff urbanists interested in walkable communities love to see —duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, etc. — and kickstarting housing projects that builders want to build and Realtors want to sell. It also means paving over homeowner associations’ power to mandate off-street parking on new development and upending decades-old zoning codes that city councils aren’t eager to rewrite.
Like many bills that live this long in Olympia, HB 1110 is stuffed with concessions. Two of those concessions came from Bateman. One would allow cities to hold off on permitting denser housing if they lack ample water supply or fire services. Cities like Mercer Island have claimed this is a problem for them. They would have until June 30, 2032, to enact the bill.
A huge change Bateman put on the table limits HB 1110 to cities of 75,000 people or more or cities within an urban growth area with the largest city in their county. Right off the bat, that’s 16 cities minimum, including Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Tacoma, Bellingham, Yakima, Vancouver, and Spokane, based on 2020 census data. King County's urban growth boundary includes many of Seattle’s smaller suburbs. That change leaves much of rural Washington alone.
A host of last-minute tweaks to HB 1110 came from its staunchest critics on Monday night.
Per two amendments from Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island, cities wouldn’t have to roll out the welcome wagon for sixplexes within a quarter-mile of a community amenity such as a school or a park. Instead, that level of density will only be required near frequent transit services.
One of the broader amendments of the night came from Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, who has been an opponent of this idea in the past. It lets cities exempt areas where increasing density raises the risk of displacing low-income residents. Pollet voiced reservations on what kind of middle housing will end up being built long term — think swank condos instead of affordable apartments. That’s a question we’re hearing more frequently in the broader housing debate.
HB 1110 passed the House by 75-21 three suburban Democrats — Rep. Amy Walen of Kirkland, Rep. Larry Springer of Kirkland, and Rep. Chris Stearns of Auburn — in opposition.
Expect things to get dicier in the Senate where HB 1110 is going to get caught in a tug-of-war between moderates and progressives gunning for even more tweaks.
Warehouse crackdown aimed at Amazon moves on
Life in the Amazon warehouse could change for the people toiling on the floor under a bill aimed at compelling the e-commerce giant to balance the pace of work with employees’ well-being.
If passed, House Bill 1762 from Rep. Beth Doglio, D-Olympia, would require companies that operate warehouses — but really, we’re talking about Amazonwarehouses — to spell out work quotas to their workers plainly and ensure they have time to hit the john and get a bite to eat. It would ban warehouses from punishing their workers for speaking up about working conditions and allow the Department of Labor and Industries to throw the book at employers for misdeeds.
We wrote about this bill’s Senate companion from Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, a while back. Of note in the push to get this bill passed is this Op-Ed from Doglio and Conway which ran in The Seattle Times this week. The piece references the Times’ own reportingabout problems at Amazon’s giant warehouse in Dupont.
HB 1729 passed the House on Monday by a vote of 53-42, but not without an extended critique from Republicans who warned slowdowns will cost consumers and push employers to swap out humans with robots. Among those making that argument was House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, who has some experience with warehouses in his day jobrustling up the ingredients of your morning omelet.
House passes Puget Sound Energy gas cutoff
The somewhat novel bid by the state’s largest utility to end the growth of its natural gas business passed the House late Monday with a few key changes.
As we reported a few weeks ago, Puget Sound Energy wants the state to let it stop accepting most new gas customers later this year. That’s because the company is a) under significant pressure to reduce its currently giant carbon footprint and b) figures it can win long-term because it’s also the state’s largest electric utility and thus in a position to benefit as folks shift from fossil fuels to cleaner electricity.
The version of House Bill 1589, sponsored by Rep. Beth Doglio, D-Olymia, passed 52-44 with a handful of Democrats joining the Republican minority in opposition. The new version exempts some industrial customers from the no-new-hookups rule. It also envisions a larger role for the Utilities and Transportation Commission to make sure PSE’s decarbonization plans are in the public interest.
Daniel Beekman of The Seattle Times has the news that accessory dwelling unit construction in Seattle is way up in recent years. The city permitted nearly 1,000 ADUs last year, up from 280 in 2019. Housing-density activists hope the competing ADU bills in play in the Legislature will throw fuel on that fire.
Budget writers will have some $300 million to work with from the state’s first carbon allowance auction. The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield has the details. The money from the cap-and-trade system imposed on major emitters by the Climate Commitment Act has to be spent on a defined set of appropriately green things. Much of it is already earmarked for last year’s big transportation package.
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Is that spring we see in the distance?
These smaller hospitals are just exempt from the reporting requirement, not the rest of the bill.
Anacortes is on Fidalgo Island, which is separated from the mainland by the Swinomish Channel and from Whidbey Island by Deception Pass. Because Observer World Headquarters is on Vashon Island, we’re connoisseurs of island-specific carve-outs. The Vashon Park District enjoys an obscure property tax preference available only to islands within counties of more than 2 million people.
The approval process for that press release must have caused someone some pain; antipathy for Mullet runs deep in those rooms.
Amazon is a sponsor of the Observer’s Re-Wire Policy Conference and our upcoming policy gathering.
If you’re looking to get an Op-Ed placed, it helps to get the paper’s reporting some love.
Eggs from Wilcox Family Farms are a staple in many Washington refrigerators.