Over the objections of several Seattle state senators who decried the loss of local control, the state senate voted this afternoon, 29-20, to overrule Seattle's paid sick leave policy.
The bill lets companies that aren't headquartered in Seattle off the hook for following Seattle's paid sick leave ordinance, which the city council passed last year. "By telling Seattle what it should do and should not do, we are interfering in local jurisdictions' decisions about the safety of their own public," Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Ballard) said.
The bill did get rid of the so-called "Burger King Exemption"—which had allowed national chains like Burger King to avoid paying their employees sick leave—by allowing the Seattle law to apply to employees who work 85 percent of their time in Seattle. Conservative Democrat Brian Hatfield (D-19, Raymond) introduced the amendment, which helped get a few more Democrats on board, including Sens. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens), who's often a GOP ally on fiscal legislation, and Sen. Tracey Eide (D-30, Federal Way).
However, that wasn't enough to win over most Democrats, particularly Seattle Democrats who repeatedly referred to the thorough debate and vetting that the local law went through at city hall.
Seattle Sens. David Frockt (D-46, North Seattle), Bob Hasegawa (D-11, Beacon Hill), Adam Kline (D-37, Southeast Seattle), Kohl-Welles, and Ed Murray (D-43, Capitol Hill) all denounced the bill, pointing out to Republicans who called it a job-killing regulation that Seattle's unemployment stats were a full percentage point lower than the rest of the state's.
Some other key points from Seattle's delegation: Hasegawa pointed out, in response to the claim that Seattle's law was belaboring small businesses with a confusing array of paperwork, that "the logical conclusion" would be "to extend the law statewide" so all workers had the right to paid sick leave.
Kline pointed out that Washington state stands by its tax code when dealing with out-of-state businesses, so why shouldn't a city be able to stand by its wage laws?
"Let's look at our own house," Kline said, accusing the Republicans of adopting a double standard regarding local control. "We're applying a different rule to my hometown," he said.
Sen. Murray responded to Republican Sen. Jenea Holmquist Newbery's (R-13, Moses Lake) jarring assertion that her district was "forced" to do business in Seattle, because the Port of Seattle is here, and demand that Seattle "give Moses Lake a vote" if they're going to pass a paid sick leave ordinance. Murray called the legislation "divisive."
Murray said: “This discussion is aimed at dividing the state, and it’s not respectful."
Sen. Frockt gave perhaps the angriest testimony, extending the critique of the Republicans' hypocrisy about local control by pointing out that the GOP was also reluctant to grant local districts such as Seattle the right to raise taxes for their own transportation needs. "We're all for local control until we're not," Frockt said.
He concluded bitterly: "This is about punishing Seattle for making Seattle a livable city for working people."
Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), the renegade Democrat who leads the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus that ushered the legislation through, quipped that he supported Seattle's right to local control and said he was happy they were making Seattle businesses pay paid sick leave. He pointed out that Bellevue, which is in his district, has a lower office vacancy rate, which he said was a better indicator than Seattle's employment figures for showing the impact of Seattle's paid sick leave law.