Democratic Latinos form a caucus, hospital staffing bill clears a hurdle

It’s Day 31. Here’s what’s happening in the 2023 session of the Washington Legislature

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2023 Washington Legislature, Day 31 of 105

Everett Herald political reporter Jerry Cornfield: | @dospueblos

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OLYMPIA, Feb. 10, 2023 — It’s Wednesday. Welcome to the mid-week edition.

Less than 10 months ago, hospital executives engaged in a pitched battle with their nurses on a bill prescribing staffing levels and worker protections. Ultimately, no new law emerged.

They are at it again on Senate Bill 5236. It’s less intense, however, because Democratic lawmakers veered away from setting specific patient-to-nurse ratios, the provision responsible for inciting much of the animus last year.

The current version of the 2023 legislation compels executives and nurses to huddle with officials of the state Department of Labor and Industries and figure out how many patients should nurses be assigned for care and how many employees should hospitals schedule to operate safely.

Those decisions will be sorted out in a protracted “negotiated rule making” process. The agency has until Jan. 1, 2027 to adopt and implement rules for minimum staffing standards for direct care registered nurses and direct care nursing assistants. Hospitals then get six months to comply. L&I will be the enforcer.

Republicans didn’t like the approach last session. They don’t like it now. Nurses have been pushed to their limits by the pandemic, they acknowledge. This year’s bill could further burden financially ailing small hospitals, even push them to cut services, or close, they said.

“That is the wrong bill to solve a very real problem,” Senate Minority Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, said a short time before voting against the measure in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

Staffing shortages existed before the pandemic and Covid simply made the situation worse, Sen. June Robinson, D-Everett, the bill’s sponsor, said in the committee meeting. This legislation, she said, aims to bring stability to the work environment and service to patients.

“We can’t have hospitals in our state without nurses to staff them,” she said.

Say hello to a new caucus

Democratic Latino lawmakers are coalescing to amplify concerns and priorities of Latino communities with their colleagues.

Eleven legislators — 8 representatives and 3 senators — formed the Democratic Latino Caucus earlier this week. Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self of Mukilteo, is the chair, and Bill Ramos of Issaquah is vice-chair. Other members are Sens. Rebecca Saldana, Javier Valdez, and Emily Randall and Reps. Monica Stonier, Emily Alvarado, Sharlett Mena, Kristine Reeves, Julio Cortes and Tarra Simmons.

“Our caucus is going to look at our Democratic values and prioritize legislation that is reflective of the needs of our Latino communities,” she said Tuesday. She hopes to deliver a list of such bills to House Speaker Laurie Jinkins next week.

This new alliance joins quite a few others in the Legislature including Members of Color Caucus, Legislative Black Caucus, Jewish Members Caucus, LGBTQ Caucus, Working Families Caucus, Moms’ Caucus and the Freedom Caucus.

First-person account

Rep. Lauren Davis may break her silence Thursday on challenges she encountered seeking protection, legal and physical, from a former partner.

Davis is expected to testify on House Bill 1715, her legislation to provide cops and judges with tools to more aggressively help victims in domestic violence cases. A public hearing is set for 8 a.m. in the House Community Safety, Justice and Reentry Committee.

Changes sought reflect the Shoreline Democratic lawmaker’s experience obtaining a domestic violence protective order against lobbyist Cody Arledge last year, citing what she said was an escalating pattern of obsessive and threatening behavior after she ended their relationship in mid-2021. The Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner first reported on this case.

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