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Senate Had Key Republican Support for Pregnancy Center Bill Before House Dems Killed It

By Josh Feit March 11, 2011

On Monday, PubliCola had the news that one of the pro-choice community's biggest legislative priorities in Olympia fell by the wayside when house leadership decided not to bring it up for a vote. The bill, pushed by Planned Parenthood and NARAL, would have made "crisis" or "limited-service" pregnancy centers (women's health clinics that are typically run by anti-choice religious groups with an anti-abortion agenda) disclose that they don't provide abortions or contraception.

Ironically, there was also a senate version of the bill, but health care committee chair Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33, Burien) says the Democrats decided to go with the house version because they believed it would be easier to pass there.

State Sen. Karen Keiser

Explaining that original strategy, Keiser added that passing it out of the house would have "sent it over with momentum," putting the pressure on the senate to pass it.

The official reason from house Democrats for shelving their version—which had passed out of the health care committee 6-4 and was queued up for a floor vote—was that the senate didn't have the votes. But is that correct?

We decided to check in with the senate; a preliminary vote count on the senate version early in the session was very positive, three different pro-choice lobbyists told PubliCola. And Keiser tells us confidently, "I knew I could get it out of committee, and I know we had at least two Republican votes." With a tight 27-22 Democratic-Republican split in the senate, two Republicans would have been key in securing the 25 vote majority to pass the controversial bill.

She wouldn't name GOP names, but freshman Eastside Republican, Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island) is on NARAL's political action committee board and told PubliCola during last year's election that he supported the pregnancy center bill. Litzow and his eastside colleague, another Republican Freshman, Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond), have broken ranks with their party a few times, including last week's vote to weaken renewable energy guidelines (they both voted 'No'), and voting to approve medical marijuana dispensaries.

Keiser says she's "disappointed that [the bill] did not come to a vote over on the floor of the house" adding, "I was willing to make the effort here. Lisa [senate majority leader Sen. Lisa Brown] said we would try."

It certainly would have not been a sure thing in the senate. One reason Keiser initially agreed to go with the house version is because of "the road rage gang," she said, referring to the senate Roadkill caucus, the centrist and conservative bloc of Democrats who often join with the GOP to thwart the Democratic agenda. "Who knows what they would have done?" she asked.

However, NARAL gives several Roadkill caucus members "Pro" ratings for their voting records on choice issues, including: Sens. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-10, Camano Island); Brian Hatfield (D-19, Raymond); Derek Kilmer (D-26, Gig Harbor); Tracey Eide (D-30, Federal Way); Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens); and Rodney Tom (D-48, Bellevue) while giving "Mixed" ratings to a few others, including Sens. Jim Kastama (D-25, Puyallup), Paull Shin (D-21, Edmonds), and Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlatch).  The only outright "Anti" choice Democrat in the Roadkill caucus is Sen. Jim Hargrove (D-24, Hoquiam), according th NARAL's ratings.

The original senate version was sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-40, San Juan Island). He has not returned our call.

We've also called Litzow, Hill, and the other Eastside GOP freshman, Sen. Joe Fain (R-47, Covington) to do a vote count of our own. Fain also voted 'Yes' on the marijuana dispensaries bill, although, NARAL gives Fain an "Anti" rating on choice issues.

[MONDAY UPDATE: NARAL has changed their assessment of Fain's position to "unknown." We still have not heard back from Fain.]

The house pregnancy center bill was the subject of some contentious hearings when pro-life groups (mostly in their teens) overwhelmed the house hearing room—and out into the hallway and outside—when over 500 folks showed up to protest.

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