State Sen. Keren Keiser (D-33, Des Moines) tried to force an omnibus insurance bill to the senate floor today in a procedural ploy to force a vote on the Reproductive Parity Act, which she said she would have included as an amedment to the bigger bill. It was the Democrats second attempt in the last 24 hours to force a vote on the RPA—legislation sponsored by Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens) that would make insurers that cover maternity care also cover abortions. The bill has been controversial all session, with Republican committee chairs in the Majority Coalition Caucus refusing to let it out of committee even though 25 senators—a majority—have signed on in support.
Democrats see symbolism here: When Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), the Democrat who joined with the Republicans at the beginning of the session to give the GOP an effective majority, took over as MCC leader, he said he would not put the Democrats' social agenda at risk. By forcing the issue on the RPA, the Democrats hope to demonstrate that the opposite is true. Democratic minority leader Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill) said yesterday: "Sen. Tom said he wanted the senate to operate under new rules of a philosophical majority. Well, we have a philosophical majority in support of these bills, and he won't allow members to vote their conscience on them."
Murray was lamenting about yesterday's failed motion to force the RPA to the floor in a procedural move known as the "Ninth Orde,r" which allows senators to pull bills from committee if they have the votes.
This morning Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33, Des Moines) tried a different procedural move. She attempted to move a bill that was already voted out of the rules committee and queued up for a floor a vote to actually be scheduled for a floor vote (no Ninth Order necessary for bills like that.) The bill is a non-controversial omnibus insurance bill that simply updates code language (it passed the house with lopsided numbers and passed out of the senate committee unanimously.) Keiser explained that she wanted to bring the bill forward in order to attach the insurance-related RPA bill as an amendment.
The motion failed, but the Democrats say they were showing Sen. Tom (or the public) that there was an easy way to vote on the RPA without forcing him to defy his own caucus by supporting a procedural f-u to his caucus members (which is one of his main objections to the Ninth Order).
However, as majority leader, it's Tom's job to schedule bills that have been voted out of rules onto the floor—so he could do with his wand what Keiser was trying to do procedurally—and bring a bill forward that his caucus signed off on.
Tom has until this afternoon to bring the bill forward, but don't count on it. Despite supporting the RPA himself, Tom knows that the MCC will fall apart if he creates an opportunity (even one that doesn't involve procedural shenanigans) for the pro-choice bill to pass.
There were certainly some fireworks during Keiser's motion. Republican leader Sen. Mark Schoesler (R-9, Ritzville) was gaveled down for accusing Keiser of impugning individual senators' motives; Lt. Gov. Brad Owen overruled Schoesler, saying Keiser was simply justifying her move .
And the whole show ended with even more finger pointing. Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlatch), the other conservative Democrat who joined the MCC, accused Sen. Murray of being out of line for saying the MCC was dominated by Republicans (it has two Democrats and 23 Republicans).
Murray responded by saying he had a First Amendment right to free speech.