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Sen. Rodney Tom and Senate Republicans sponsor bill to gut Seattle paid sick days law

Left to right: Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) Sen. Rodney Tom (R-Medina), Cyrus the Virus, Sen. Schoesler

Cyrus the Virus urges lawmakers to join his cause against virus-killing legislation like paid sick days. From left to right: Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane), Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Medina), Cyrus the Virus, Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-Pullman). This photo isn’t real – but Senators Tom and Schoesler really are sponsoring legislation to repeal Seattle’s landmark paid sick days law.

The Seattle Times reports majority coalition leader Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Medina) and five other state senators* have introduced legislation designed to gut Seattle’s paid sick and safe days law:

  • Senate Bill 5726, a.k.a. “the Burger King exemption”, prohibits any local paid sick/safe leave law from applying to people who work for employers headquartered outside of that particular city, town or county. That would, of course, make it ridiculously easy for big businesses to get out of providing paid sick or safe leave.
  • Senate Bill 5728, a.k.a. “we know better than you”, preempts any locality from passing any law pertaining to paid sick/safe leave that exceeds state standards. Since there is no state standard, Seattle’s law would effectively be kaput – as would any future effort by local citizens to pass a similar local measure.

Seattle’s sick days law was passed by an 8-1 vote of the Seattle City Council. Reflecting broad public support for the measure, Councilmembers received thousands of emails, postcards and phone calls in favor; a poll of Seattle voters found 69% supported the legislation. Now, a handful of state senators – none of whom represent Seattle constituents – are attempting to undermine Seattle’s democratic process and silence the will of the people.

Their action also flies in the face of long-established state law: since 1967, Washington has specifically authorized cities to perform any function not specifically denied them in the state constitution or by state law. That includes paid sick and safe leave – but not if these legislators have their way.

Think it can’t happen here? Think again. A few years back, Milwaukee voters approved a paid sick days law with 69% of the vote. Following a protracted lawsuit by Milwaukee’s Chamber of Commerce, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Scott Walker preempted the law. The corporate front group ALEC has since touted Wisconsin’s bill as a model for paid-sick days preemption bills in other states:

PR Watch obtained documents from ALEC’s 2011 Annual Meeting showing that one of the group’s committees — the Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee of the Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development Task Force — focused its entire meeting on the issue of paid sick leave. Task force members, who are legislators, were given copies of a bill that enables state legislatures to override municipal paid sick days laws. The same bill was used in Wisconsin to override Milwaukee’s paid sick days requirement.

Florida and Louisiana are also considering legislation that, much like Senator Tom’s, is intended to void or repeal local paid sick days laws and initiatives.

*Senators Braun (R-Centralia), Bailey (R-Whidbey Island), Schoesler (R-Pullman), Padden (R-Spokane Valley), and Benton (R-Outer Vancouver) are also sponsoring the two bills.

02/13/13 4:52 p.m.: Post updated to clarify the timing of Wisconsin legislation, ALEC activity, and activity in other states.

02/13/13 3:00 p.m.: Photo caption updated to clarify it is a photo illustration.

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