Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs told a Senate hearing this morning he has the signatures of at least 25 Senate members willing to vote in favor of a bill requiring insurers to cover abortion, if they also cover maternity. His letter is here. But it looks like having the votes for House Bill 1044 will not matter.
First, Senate Health Care Committee chair Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, abruptly adjourned this morning’s hearing just after noon – before Democratic Sen. Karen Keiser could move to bring House Bill 1044 to a committee vote. Wednesday is the deadline for the House and Senate to pass non-budget bills from the opposite chamber out of the policy committees, and a committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday has been cancelled.
Keiser put out a statement immediately after Becker adjourned the hearing that says:
“Unfortunately this is not an April Fools joke — I wish it was — a woman’s access to reproductive health care is no laughing matter … Republicans like to talk about bipartisanship, but when they don’t pass a bill out of committee widely believed to have enough support to be voted off the Senate floor, that’s not walking the walk. Sixteen states have already enacted rules that make it harder for individuals to access abortion services. It’s a trend that needs to be stopped here in Washington state.”
Second, even if Becker finds a way to get a vote, Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville has said the Majority Coalition Caucus has votes to block the measure from going to the floor from Rules Committee. So it might only leave committee to die there – unless a majority of Senate lawmakers use a procedural move to force it to the floor.
Becker has said before she doubted she could support the measure personally as a Catholic. But her move to close the hearing came quickly – after telling Keiser early in the hearing she would consider her request to give the measure a vote.
Becker did deliver today on her promise to give up to two hours’ time to hearing the bill. The TVW coverage is here.
Over the course of two hours, a parade of activists, religious figures and business owners took turns testifying on both sides of the controversial bill that would make Washington the first state with an insurance mandate.
About 21 states have taken steps to bar insurance coverage of abortion, and potentially 10 more are considering it, according to testimony. But Washington has the nation’s first voter-approved abortion law dating to 1991 and Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, told the committee this bill is about protecting that right of choice.
Speaking in favor of the bill were numerous women, doctors, Elaine Rose of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, Rachel Berkson of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and Janet Chung of Legal Voice.
Among those testifying in opposition were Archbishop Peter Sartain of the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, numerous individuals and owners of businesses, who contended their right of conscience would be infringed on if businesses had to provide insurance that included abortion coverage. Opponents have cited recent polling to show a larger share of the public opposes the proposal than supports it.
Associated Press was covering the hearing and we’ll be using AP’s coverage in tomorrow’s papers.
Hobbs said he understands other Senate members unwilling to sign the public letter but who would vote for HB 1044 if it goes to the floor. If true, that would give him far more than the 25 votes he needs.
Those signing the letter include: Sens. Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens; Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island; Maralyn Chase, D-Shoreline; Adam Kline, D-Seattle; Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah; Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island; Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver; Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Vancouver; Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle; Karen Keiser, D-Kent; Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell; Steve Conway, D-Tacoma; Karen Fraser, D-Thurston County; Tracey Eide, D-Des Moines; Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma; David Frockt, D-Seattle; Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor; Ed Murray, D-Seattle; Andy Billig, D-Spokane; Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island; Nick Harper, D-Everett; Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond; Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island; Rodney Tom, Medina; and Paull Shin, D-Edmonds.
UPDATE: Sen. Becker put out a statement late this afternoon explaining the bill will not get further action. It says:
“My commitment from the beginning of this legislative session was to give the abortion mandate bill a hearing so that all sides would have an opportunity to share their perspective on the bill. I have honored that commitment and I sincerely appreciate the respectful testimony we heard in committee today from people in support and opposed to the bill.
“Everyone knows that this is a difficult, emotional issue for many people,” Becker said. “There are those inside and outside the Legislature who view the bill as unnecessary and some who remain concerned that it would violate the federal conscience clause. In fact, I received a letter today from several members of Congress from both sides of the aisle who feel that if this bill were to pass, it would jeopardize federal health-care funds.
“If our state were to pass this bill, we would be the only one in the nation to require private insurance plans to pay for abortion. Before anyone takes that step, I feel it is only prudent to ensure that the bill is necessary and would not have unintended consequences.
“The fact is that at this point, House Bill 1044 is a solution in search of a problem,” Becker said. “Even advocates of the bill admit that there is no need for the bill today as every health insurer in the state of Washington provides for abortion coverage. As such, the decision of the committee is that the bill will not move forward from here this year.”
The letter from Congress mentioned by Becker is signed by U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and four other members and addressed to President Barack Obama. It argues that HB 1044 could violate the “Weldon amendment” protecting a right of conscience for individuals and health plans, and it suggests Washington could lose health-care money if the bill passes.