At the beginning of the year, just days before legislative session began, WSNA launched a bold new initiative – the Campaign for Patient Safety. After hearing from you, our members, time and time again that staffing was simply not adequate in many of your units, we knew that we needed to try something different. Our best efforts to work in collaboration with the hospitals, including hundreds of hours of mediated meetings, led to little meaningful progress.
WSNA pushed three bills forward in the Legislature in collaboration with the other healthcare unions and the support of the Washington State Labor Council. Each bill addresses a core patient safety concern and seeks to establish statewide safety standards to protect patients and nurses:
- New statewide staffing minimums
- Uninterrupted rest and meal breaks
- Limiting mandatory overtime
In January, with the launch of the campaign, we knew that we had an uphill battle. Legislators were simply not aware of the staffing and safety issues that nurses face on a daily basis. We also knew that the Washington State Hospital Association and many hospital administrators would fight tooth and nail to prevent the creation and implementation of any real protections in the workplace for you and your patients.
While we knew that this was an important issue to you, we were overwhelmed by your support and engagement for the campaign. At dozens of events across the state, WSNA brought the information to your facilities, to unity dinners, local unit meetings and more. WSNA held an all-day Legislative Advocacy Camp in January and Nurse Legislative Day in February which brought over 600 interested nurses and nursing students to Olympia to learn how to be effective advocates for nursing priorities. Attendees also learned more about each legislative proposal in the Campaign for Patient Safety and how to discuss these safety issues with legislators.
Thousands of nurses helped move these bills forward this year – with visits to Olympia, hand-written letter, phone calls, emails and more. On the strength of your efforts, we were able to make significant progress with at least one hearing on each bill.
WSNA is committed to this fight for as long as it takes for meaningful change to happen. All components of our organization are working together to ensure that we come into the 2013 Legislative Session stronger than ever. We are spending this interim continuing to educate lawmakers, the public, and our members about the importance of safe staffing.
We need you to stay involved! Just because session is over doesn’t mean the work is over. Meet with your legislators when they’re back from Olympia, continue to write letters, talk to colleagues, volunteer for a campaign, or get involved in the WSNA-PAC.
If you have questions about how you can stay active this summer, contact Richard Burton, WSNA Political Action Coordinator, at email@example.com.
Visit www.wsna.org/Campaign-for-Patient-Safety/ for more information about the Campaign for Patient Safety.
House Bill 2501 to limit mandatory overtime: Cleared a major hurdle and was successfully passed out of the House of Representatives by a 57 – 41 vote. After moving to the Senate, the bill was passed out of the Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce & Consumer Protection into the Rules Committee. Unfortunately, the bill was not moved out of Rules in time for a full vote on the Senate floor.
House Bill 2519 on new statewide staffing minimums for safer patient care: A hearing was held in the House Committee on Labor & Workforce Development, but the bill did not pass out of the committee before the cutoff deadline.
Senate Bill 6307 on new statewide staffing minimums for safer patient care: Heard and passed out of the Senate Committee on Health & Long-Term Care. The Senate Ways & Means then held a hearing on SB 6307, but it did not pass out of the committee before the cutoff deadline.
Senate Bill 6309 to ensure full uninterrupted rest and meal breaks:Heard and passed out of the Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce & Consumer Protection. The bill was then referred to the Senate Ways & Means Committee but did not pass out of the committee before the cutoff deadline.
2012 Legislative Session By the Numbers
Individual emails sent to legislators by WSNA members
Nurses and nursing students at WSNA Nurse Legislative Day
Handwritten letters and phone calls from WSNA members to legislators
Two Special Sessions Needed to Finalize State Budget
A weary legislature recovering from two special sessions in 2011 faced serious challenges going into the 2012 legislative session last January. Since 2009, legislative sessions focused on how to close state budget shortfalls resulting in 10 billion dollars in cuts to vital health, human services, and higher education. The list of cuts and eliminations to programs grows every year. In December, the Governor recommended to the legislature a half penny sales tax to generate 500 million of needed revenue, a step forward in preserving vital health and human services.
After WSNA members volunteered time and effort to hold several public demonstrations to preserve the health care safety net and end cuts to programs such as Apple Health for Kids and the Basic Health Plan, efforts seemed to pay off. The House and Senate Democrats proposed a budget with no new cuts to these services. To achieve this fair and equitable revenue sources from closing two tax loopholes were proposed: one benefiting big banks, and another narrowed a sales tax exemption for renewable energy equipment.
In a surprise move, the Senate Republicans recruited three Senate Democrats (Senators Jim Kastama of the 25th Legislative District, Rodney Tom of the 48th Legislative District, and Tim Sheldon of the 35th Legislative District) to force an alternative budget that proposed more cuts to health, human services, and higher education by a slim one vote margin. A conservative agenda held budget negotiations hostage with the aim to erode state government and diminish state employee pensions, virtually eliminate state funding for family planning services, advance charter schools and other “reforms.”
The handful of Democrat votes needed for this takeover make it clear that the slimmer Democratic majority in the Senate has created barriers to addressing larger issues such as fair and equitable revenue to fund health services.
Because of the Legislature’s inability to create a budget by the end of regular session, the Governor declared a special session that began on March 12th. With severe partisan and ideological divisions, the Legislature had a long way to go before reaching a compromise. The Governor declared a second special session when the legislature failed to enact a budget by midnight, April 11th, the end of the 30-day first special session. The Legislature did not take a break, and worked early into the morning of April 12th until they could pass a budget and “reform” bills.
WSNA legislative priorities intact and protected from further cuts
All of WSNA’s budget priorities avoided cuts in the final budget bill, 3ESHB 2127. Over the past six-months, we’ve made it through four legislative sessions (one late 2011 special session, regular session, the full 30-day 1st special session, and the one-day long 2nd special session), as well as fourteen operating budget proposals over the past 2 months (all listed on the LEAP website).
Other items of interest in the budget:
- Increased funding for the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission to address substance abuse and increased nursing practice complaints.
- The Health care Authority is directed to create a drug formulary for public programs, with estimated savings of $3.5 million total funds
- $2.1 million funding provided to develop the health care exchange, with direction to report to the Legislature about the viability of a Basic Health Option by December 2012
- Indigent assistance (DSH) hospital payments are eliminated starting July 2012, totaling $26.2 million
- The Health Care Authority is to establish a new program to reduce avoidable ER use expected to save $8.8 million. The HCA is to establish best practices to reduce unnecessary emergency room use and implement a policy of non-payment for non-emergent ER visits by certain hospitals that do not official file with the department adoption and compliance with the best practices.
- $1 million additional funding for Apple Health outreach to enroll qualifying children into the program
- $11,000 funding is provided to DOH to administer new requirements for reporting hospital administrators’ salaries.
The budget bill a grants authority to the Governor to make across the board cuts for the existing biennial budget in the case that it is necessary to balance the budget later in the year due to a negative revenue forecast or if the budget comes out of balance otherwise.
“Reform” bills passed in exchange for the budget
The same three conservative Senate democrats teamed up with the Senate Republicans to stop the Legislature from passing a budget until certain “reform” bills passed:
- K-12 insurance reform:
Restructures health benefits for K-12 employees so that they are on par with other state employees and imposes new requirements on health plans offered If the Office of the Insurance Commissioner determines that a school district does not meet these requirements by Dec. 2015 all employees from that district will be placed in the Public Employees Benefit Board insurance plan.
- Public-employee pension cuts:
Removes incentives for early retirement after 30 years of service for new public employees (starts with hires after May 1, 2013). State workers who retire before the age of 62 already have scaled back pension benefits. Under the new bill, pension benefits for workers retiring at the age of 55 would be reduced by as much as 50 percent. The plan would save the state an estimated $1.3 billion over 25 years. The Federation of State Employees lobbied hard against the bill, and had a lesser impact than Sen. Zarelli’s original bill.
- Four year budgeting:
Makes Washington the first state to require the state's two-year budget to be in line with anticipated revenue over a four-year period or 4.5 percent growth per year, whichever is greater.
Unfortunately, no other policy bills survived special session, including HB 2648to remove the sunset date on the $5 surcharge on nursing licenses to fund the WA Center for Nursing. HB 2812, the Toxic Free Kids Act to ban the chemical TRIS, came close to revival but died in special session.
New revenue generated
The Legislature generated $12 million in new revenue by taxing “roll your own cigarettes” by passing HB 2565. Before passage of this bill, “roll your own cigarette” machines existed in many convenience stores, allowing customers to purchase loose tobacco and be rolled into cigarettes by this machine at a much lower cost than finished cigarettes in packs and cartons. This bill closed this loophole in cigarette taxation.
The legislature also closed the bank first mortgage loophole. However, they also recreated three new exemptions, bringing down the estimated revenue gained. $2.6 million
Washington State Labor Council’s priority bill, the “Jobs Now” package also passed
$1.1 billion is authorized, half of it in new general-obligation bonds, for projects statewide to promote economic development, higher education, sewer and water system upgrades, and environmental rehabilitation. Supporters expect 20,000 jobs to be created through this funding. Washington State Labor Council (WSLC) President Jeff Johnson called it “a great victory for the working men and women of our state, especially those in the construction industry who have suffered from such high unemployment since the beginning of the recession.”
For more information on how things came together, here are some links: