OLYMPIA – The Washington State Legislature passed an amended version Wednesday of a bill mandating meal and rest breaks for certain health care employees. The Senate passed the bill in a 63- 34 vote and the House passed it 70-24.
Controversial amendments to HB 1155 were removed in a confirmation committee Tuesday evening. Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, proposed an amendment that passed that would limit shifts to eight hours.
Walsh made remarks last week in a floor speech that enraged nurses across the country: “Those nurses probably do get breaks, they probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.” Nurses nationwide have sent her more than 1,700 decks of playing cards before Wednesday’s mail was delivered. While Walsh has apologized for her remarks, they have encouraged nurses to come to the State Capitol and protest.
Nurses from around Washington headed to the Capitol to encourage the Legislature to pass the underlying bill that mandates meal and rest breaks and makes it so employees cannot be required to work overtime.
The House did not concur on the Senate amendments and therefore went into a conference committee with representatives from both chambers to reconcile the two versions of the bill.
The committee removed both Walsh’s amendment and another amendment that exempted critical access hospitals from being required to give meal and rest breaks. Instead, there will be a two-year deferment for many small hospitals in having to comply with this new regulation.
The bill then went back to the Senate for a final vote. Sen. Walsh spoke against the stripped down bill Wednesday.
“I would like to point out the fact that once again it’s one of these typical situations of urban versus rural. I got a little critical access hospital, it has maybe five patients and we’re going to subscribe how they staff their hospital?” said Walsh.
Walsh said she is “very disappointed” at the outcome of this bill and that it is overreach on the Legislature’s part.
Sen. Rebecca Saldana, D-Seattle, noted in her speech that the bill does not detail how a hospital covers these breaks with their staff, but does ensure consistent breaks across the state, which she said ultimately helps patient care.
Gov. Jay Inslee spoke to the protesters Wednesday morning and is expected to sign the legislation into law. The Legislative session is scheduled to end April 28.
Emma Epperly is an intern with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau.