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Isn't it Weird That

Isn't it Weird That ... the Democratic state house failed to move the top Democratic priority of the year today: raising the minimum wage?

Rep. Jessyn Farrell's (D-46, N. Seattle) bill to boost the state minimum wage from $9.32 to $12 by 2017 failed to come up for a vote in the appropriations committee last night or today, the last day for bills to move out of fiscal committees.

The minimum wage movement—from President Obama's state of the union to Gov. Jay Inslee's state of the state—is clearly the Democrats' signature issue this year. And state Rep. Farrell, along with 30 co-sponsors, promptly took up the charge.

However, after the bill, one of many bills that needed to pass today's fiscal committee deadline, failed to move in last night's marathon appropriations session, or in a follow-up session this afternoon, all Farrell could say this afternoon was: "My attitude is 'let's keep fighting.' We can make a good case that this fits in to the rest of our agenda."

It is, ironically, the rest of the Democratic agenda—specifically, a paid sick leave bill that the house passed last week, Farrell said—that may have diminished the appetite for the minimum wage bill. The paid sick leave bill, which requires employers to give workers paid sick time and which passed 52-45 two weeks agoalong party lines, was a heavy lift, Farrell said—"a hard vote for many"—and it may not have been the right time, she said, to push another major bill.

"Let's take a breath," Farrell urged. She said she's "looking at other avenues" and noted the possibility of declaring the bill "Necessary to Implement the Budget" (NTIB)—a longstanding legislative tactic that enables legislators to resuscitate bills that stall in the initial process. "Talk to me on Day 60," she said, referring to the last day of the session, March 13.

The bill does come with an extensive fiscal note—it would cost tens of millions of dollars to increase the wages of state workers, social service contractors, student employees at state colleges and universities, and K-12 employees, to $12 an hour in the 2017 budget, for example.

But there's an irony here too. While the budget implications may rescue the bill by making it possible NTIB material, the fiscal note is also, according to Farrell, another reason the legislation ran into trouble this week. The fiscal note wasn't available until the last 48 hours, and hitting legislators with big expenditures at the last minute as the bill was rushed into appropriations slowed the bill's momentum; several reps wanted time to study the fiscal note first, she said. 

Even if the bill eventually passes the house, it will surely face an uphill battle in the senate, where a bill to stop Seattle from increasing its own minimum wage (and to roll back SeaTac's recent voter-approved minimum wage increase) has passed out of committee and is ready for floor action.

But at this point, it doesn't seem to be the Republican-dominated senate that's the problem for the Democratic priority bill—it's the Democratic house.  It's worth noting that appropriations committee member Seattle Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-37, S. Seattle, has not signed on to the bill or signaled his support (Rep. Reuven Carlyle, also on the appropriations committee, is the only other Seattle rep who hasn't signed on as a co-sponsor, but he told PubliCola he's a 'Yes' on the legislation). We have a call in to Pettigrew.

Ultimately, perhaps it isn't that weird that the Democrats are choking. They failed to move last year's zeitgeist agenda bill—gun control.

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