This Week in Rodney Tom's Olympia
A former Democratic state representative looks at Rodney Tom's "bipartisan" senate.
Week two of the Rodney Tom era in the Senate will open with efforts to dismantle our state’s century-old industrial insurance protections for workers.
On Monday, January 21 the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee will receive a briefing on workers’ compensation. On Wednesday, January 23 it will consider five bills, four of which Tom is co-sponsoring, that all attempt to repudiate the result in 2010 when voters rejected changes, embodied by Initiative 1082, to the workers’ compensation system. (I-1082 would have privatized the workers' comp system). Each bill is prime-sponsored by Moses Lake Senator Janéa Holmquist Newbry, my old Republican friend from my days in the state House.
One especially charming bill attempts to deny occupational disease claims if a single factor outside the workplace contributed to the disease or made a worker susceptible to it. In other words, if an asthmatic person got a respiratory disease from breathing chemicals at work, the presumption would be that it was the asthma's fault.
Another, predictably, seeks to build upon the bipartisan abomination of “structured settlement” legislation pushed into law a couple years ago by removing any age limit to obtain such settlements. (Currently, only workers over 55 can obtain structured settlements, in which injured workers agree to drop claims against the state in exchange for fixed periodic payments.)
This could mean that young people under financial duress, and likely without legal representation, sell disability claims for quick cash – replacing medicine and rehabilitation with casino payouts. If a worker is still injured, eventually he or she will end up unemployable on Medicaid or receiving uncompensated care in a hospital emergency room or health clinic.
Holmquist Newbry was a visible spokesperson for I-1082, going so far as to appear at a rally hosted by I-1082’s sponsor, the Building Industry Association of Washington, in front of the Department of Labor and Industries headquarters in Tumwater. At the rally, which featured—no kidding—an anti-worker rapper, Holmquist Newbry railed through a bullhorn against “union bosses” and promised to send injured workers’ “tax cow to the slaughterhouse.”
Notwithstanding this promise, on its way to failing in every county, I-1082 was rejected by 56% of voters in Holmquist Newbry’s 13th District and 55% of voters in Tom’s 48th District. And since I-1082’s failure the huge workers’ compensation rate increases its proponents guaranteed have failed to materialize. But, by all means, let's destroy something that isn't broken.
On Friday, January 25, the Senate Law and Justice Committee will consider modifying our 123-year-old right to privacy by overturning Washington Supreme Court precedent and changing the constitution to allow any number of actors, from teachers' aides to police, to search students at school without a warrant Because “school” is not defined we must assume, as courts will, that the term refers to colleges and universities as well.
What better way to teach students to respect our freedoms than to deny those freedoms to them?
So many more fun bills are already lined up for the weeks ahead. No public money for art! No local zoning laws barring the “restoration” of as many as six junk vehicles on your property! Deny living wages to residential construction workers! Eliminate the Guaranteed Education Tuition program for kids like my son because there is a 1% chance GET will become insolvent!
And so much for bipartisanship: Ostensible Senate Majority Leader Tom was sidelined while the official Senate majority response to Governor Inslee’s inaugural address railed against reproductive rights.
Anyway, as Thomas Frank writes on bipartisanship in the current issue of Harper's, "The only ones left out of this warm bipartisan circle of friendship are the voters, who wake up one fine day to discover that what they thought they'd rejected wasn't rejected in the least." In effect, they get "an election with virtually no consequences."
Sort of like the 53% of voters in Rodney Tom's 48th District who chose Jay Inslee over their fellow Eastsider Rob McKenna.