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Legislative process

Rep. Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor is not happy that her most prized bill was left on the House floor.

Last Saturday, Bailey spoke to a group of about 35 people in Oak Harbor about the on-going legislative session. The Republican lawmaker spoke at length about how impressed she is by the political process of creating laws, but said she was very concerned about the direction of the health care system in the state.

“We are coming closer and closer to a state-run health care system,” said Bailey, the ranking Republican member of the House Health Care Committee.

Bailey introduced House Bill 1685, which would have set a moratorium on additional health insurance coverage mandates and directed the state to study the costs of current mandates, such as the mandate for health insurance to cover mental health disorders. It is one of eight bills that Bailey introduced this session, with modest success.

Bailey and the two other state legislators who represent Whidbey Island have been hard at work, writing a total of 61 bills between them and co-sponsoring many dozens more — though Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano, has created the vast majority.

The bills, they say, touch on many issues that affect Whidbey Island residents, including transportation, health care, agriculture, land use, sex offenders and even lighthouses.

Bailey said the three legislators for the area — her, Haugen and Rep. Chris Strow, R-Clinton — plan on having a series of town hall meetings to keep residents up-to-date on what they are up to. But she was alone Saturday because Strow has pneumonia and Haugen was busy in Olympia.

Haugen’s bills

Haugen, chairperson of the Senate Transportation Committee, has introduced 50 bills since the beginning of the year. Her most important bills, she said, are:

• Senate Bill 5744, authorizing county-wide mail ballot elections. Haugen said the bill would give county commissioners the option of having elections with only mail-in ballots and no polling places. She said this can increase voter turnout and lower costs. Haugen said the House bill requiring mail-in ballots throughout the state is DOA. Her bill passed the Senate March 4.

• Senate Bill 5424, authorizing the creation of “Washington Lighthouses” special license plates. This is one of the 19 new special license plates introduced this year. Haugen said the money raised from people buying the license plate will go toward maintaining lighthouses, including Admiralty Head in Central Whidbey. She also introduced a bill putting a moratorium on new special license plates for a two-year period. Bailey introduced the same bill in the House, but it failed.

• Senate Bill 5056, authorizing the creation of a department of Archeology and Historic Preservation. Haugen said the bill would move the department out of Community Trade and Economic Development and create an independent department. The move would cut overhead cost by 20 percent, she said, and give the department “a higher presence.”

The bill passed the Senate March 10.

l Senate Bill 5962, protecting customary agriculture practices. The bill would discourage nuisance complaints and frivolous lawsuits against farms, especially by neighbors. The bill passed in the Senate March 10.

l Senate Bill 5907, regarding cities and counties planning under the Growth Management Act. The bill would allow cities or counties to plan for population growth without requiring a minimum density, as recently required by the Growth Hearings Board. “It gives communities more flexibility,” she said.

The bill passed the Senate March 16.

l Senate Bill 5058, regarding fuel tax payments. Haugen said the bill requires fuel companies to give gas tax money to the state within a month of collecting it. She said the companies currently hold onto the tax for two months and collect interest on the taxpayers’ money. The bill will save the state about $2 million a year, she said. It passed the Senate March 15.

l Senate Bill 5513, restructuring certain transportation agencies. The bill would turn the Secretary of Transportation into a cabinet-level position, which Haugen said would create more accountability in the department. The bill passed the Senate March 14.

Bailey’s bills

Bailey, a Republican, introduced eight bills this year, five of which concern the state’s health care system. Only one of her bills were voted on by the Democrat-controlled House. Here’s a look at several of her bills:

l House Bill 1686, implementing health coverage cost reduction and consumer choice. The omnibus bill includes four parts, which Bailey also broke out into four separate bills. The bill would “declare an intent to provide employees with more options in choosing a quality health care plan that meets their individual needs, create a moratorium on new mandated health benefits, and require an independent cost-benefit analysis of all current health benefit mandates ... enact medical malpractice reforms ... maintain access to affordable quality health care services, and avert the kind of crisis now facing the residents of Washington.”

l House Bill 1685, concerning health insurance policy mandates. The bill would have placed a freeze on new health coverage mandates and required a study of existing mandates. The bill made it out of committee but died on the floor March 16.

“Mandates are one of the primary reasons health insurance costs so much,” Bailey said. “We have nearly 50 health insurance mandates in the state and there’s no flexibility in the coverage you may choose. You either must buy an expensive plan with all of the mandates or go without.”

l House Bill 2262, concerning new mandated health benefits. The bill would provide that new mandated health services only apply to state-purchased health care programs for one year. After the year, the health care authority will submit a report on the impact of the benefit.

l House Bill 1140, developing a schedule of fees for performing independent reviews of health care disputes. The bill would mandate that the department of health develop a reasonable maximum fee schedule that independent review organizations shall use to assess health care carriers for conducting reviews. Bailey said fees charged for independent reviews of health-care coverage decisions — when there’s a dispute between the insurance company and a claimant — can vary greatly and this bill would standardize the fee.

The bill passed the House unanimously March 3 and is currently in the Senate Rules committee.

l House Bill 1572, excluding certain postage costs from taxation. The bill is in response to the Department of Revenues decision to tax postage that goes through mail-house businesses. Bailey had Patti Carter, owner of Oak Harbor’s Pony Mailing, testify in the House about how the tax would put her out of business. The bill dies in the House, according to washingtonvotes.com.

Strow’s bills

Strow introduced three bills, two of which unanimously passed in the House. They are:

l House Bill 1592, regarding women’s contributions to WWII. The bill would dedicate funding to the World War II Oral History Project to record the memories of women who contributed to the state and nations during the war. The bill passed the House March 9.

l House Bill 1607, regarding American Indian Tuition Rates. The bill was substituted to including members of federally recognized Indian tribes as resident students for tuition purposes. It passed the House March 3.

l House Bill 1277, changing registration requirements for sex offenders and kidnapping offenders. The bill died.

Under the 2005 session cut-off calendar, March 16 was the last day that bills could be considered in the house of origin. April 15 is the last day the Senate and House can consider opposite house bills, except initiatives and alternatives to initiatives, budgets and matters necessary to implement budgets. April 24 is the last day of the session.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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