Bipartisanship never stood a chance. Washington's legislators are too tone-deaf to sing "Kumbayah" — as sniping increases across party lines.
Democrats and Republicans are the Delta and Omega fraternities in 1978's Animal House. Question is: Who're the Deltas and who're the Omegas? And which legislator is John Belushi?
In case it's been a while since you saw the American classic, a refresher:
Senate Republicans have been flexing their new-found muscle: With a 23-Republican-two-Democrat alliance led by Sen.Rodney Tom, D-Medina, Republicans control the Senate, meaning the Democrats are in the strange new position of being a largely powerless minority.
Republican bills that died in Senate committees for 10 years will now see the light of day. And Republicans are taking advantage of that. Sen. Janea Holmquist-Newbry, R-Moses Lake and new chairwoman of the Senate's Commerce and Labor Committee, has introduced five complicated workers compensation bills, which organized labor is rising to oppose.
Sen. Don Benton has introduced 30 bills so far — including one that would require parental notification if a girl 18 or younger wants an abortion and one that would require proof of citizenship to get or renew a driver's license.
Meanwhile, newly-elected Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia and chairman of the Senate's Trade and Economic Development Committee in his rookie session, has introduced a bill to repeal the 2007 Family Medical Insurance Act. The act is currently slated to provide parents of newborn and newly adopted children with up to five weeks of paid leave starting in 2015. Implementation was delayed because of a lack of money to manage the program — $10 to $12 million in the estimation of the bill's author, Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent. Leaves of absence themselves would be funded through a tiny payroll deduction, she said.
"Business and labor have never come together to find a mechanism to pay for it," said Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville and Republican caucus leader. Holmquist -Newbry added, "It's an empty promise."
All this has made Keiser as mad as the mother of a high school girl who just realized her daughter snuck out to a Delta toga party.
"It's appalling that Republicans are proposing legislation to actually repeal our state's Family Medical Leave Insurance Act. At a time when middle-class working families are struggling. It makes no sense to cut this benefit," Keiser said.
In fact, Keiser introduced her own bill on the matter Thursday — aimed at expanding the Family Medical Leave Act to provide for up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child or a sick family member. It would also provide two-thirds of usual weekly pay up to a maximum of $1,000 a week. The premiums would be shared by employers and employees and would cost, according to her calculations, roughly $1 a week for an employee salaried at $50,000 annually. Workers would become eligible after paying premiums for 680 hours of work.
Braun's bill will face a hearing Monday afternoon before the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee — chaired by Holmquist-Newbry, with Braun as vice-chairman.
Maybe some of this deluge of bills will show just how tight the Majority Coalition Caucus really is. The 25 have so far been united on budget matters, universally against new taxes and for cutting state expenses. And so far they have stuck together on procedural matters as well, defeating Democrats' attempts to chip away at their power.
But Tom and a few Republicans have been moderates on social issues. Will the 25 hold together on the socially-conservative bills proposed by far right coalition members?
In past years, Republicans have condemned Democrats for introducing liberal social bills like the marriage equality act, saying these types of bills are distractions from important budget and business issues. This year though, they're singing a different tune. Schoesler said it is the right of all legislators to introduce their own bills, including those that promote conservative social stances.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!