January 28, 2011

Union joins legislators in boosting bill allowing lawmakers to meet with state employees at the worksite

When Jeremy Taylor-Sparks, a Local 443 member at the state Health Care Authority in Lacey, and other members invited Rep. Sam Hunt to a lunchtime meeting to update them on plans to eliminate the Basic Health Plan, his management told him “Rep. Hunt would not be welcome on the premises.”

“And (management) let us know that if he did, that she would just cancel the meeting,” Taylor-Sparks told the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee Thursday (Jan. 27).

Why would Hunt and other legislators be persona non grata at a lunchroom meeting?

As Taylor-Sparks and Hunt explained, the state Legislative Ethics Board advised that such a meeting might involve lobbying of legislators or a political plug by lawmakers.

The hearing was on House Bill 1179, sponsored by Hunt, who chairs the committee.

He said he and other legislators had the same experience a few years ago and proposed similar legislation. But they were told it was basically a mix-up by the ethics board and wouldn’t happen again.

Then it did.

“This is déjà vu all over again,” Federation Lobbyist Dennis Eagle testified.

Hunt said “out of frustration” he brought the bill forward again.

HB 1179 clarifies it’s ok for state employees to attend informational or educational meetings with a legislator or other elected official and that it’s OK to use state facilities to do so, as long as it’s not political.

“I think that legislators have the right – and state employees more importantly have a right to meet with their legislators and to hear what might be happening,” Hunt said. “Not to lobby, but to get information presented to them.”

The Evergreen Freedom Foundation raised concerns about the bill.

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