Chances for "Wal-Mart bill" shrivel at deadlineYeah, the unions don't want a referendum because they know they would get their butts kicked when Washington businesses rallied together to fight that evil spawn.
OLYMPIA — Prospects for a vote on a bill to force minimum levels of health care spending by large employers all but evaporated today, with the House's top Democrat saying the measure had reached a dead end.
House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said he'd rather study the overarching issue of health insurance during the coming year and said exposing more employer data to public scrutiny would help that effort.
"This particular piece of legislation won't be passed today," Chopp said when asked about the so-called "Wal-Mart bill" on Tuesday, just hours ahead of a key legislative deadline.
"We'll work on it during the interim and come back next session with some more plans," he said.
His stance was no surprise, but it disappointed union activists and House Democrats who agitated for a vote on the bill after its chances dwindled in the Senate.
"The issue is not going to die," said Rick Bender, president of the Washington State Labor Council. "We will make this a major issue as we go into the 2007 legislative session."
The measure proposed in Washington this year is part of a push by organized labor to force minimum health care spending by employers in more than 30 states.
Washington's version of the bill would require companies with more than 5,000 workers in the state to devote 9 percent of their payroll spending to health benefits.
It isn't known how many companies would be affected under that formula, but the leading target of the bill has been Wal-Mart - the country's largest private employer and a longtime adversary of organized labor.
Wal-Mart approves of Chopp's alternative approach, which would push more data about workers receiving taxpayer-funded health benefits into the public eye, company spokeswoman Jennifer Holder said.
Such information was a heated point in debate at the Legislature.
Confidential state reports leaked to the news media showed more than 3,000 Wal-Mart workers benefited from Medicaid and the state's Basic Health Plan in 2004, and an analysis by nonpartisan Senate staff put the price tag for state coffers at more than $12 million.
Wal-Mart officials objected to the portrayal, saying the information was outdated and produced with questionable motives.
As an alternative to the health spending bill, Chopp said the House would likely approve a measure that opens more of that information up to the public.
"I think that transparency is key to this debate," Holder said.
Some lawmakers and others have suggested a ballot measure on the health spending issue during the fall elections.
But Chopp said he was opposed to a referendum, and Bender, the labor council president, said paying for an initiative campaign would likely be too expensive.
And darn right transparency is the key to the debate. Once all the numbers, including percentages (which are the key), become known, it won't just be Wal-Mart that looks bad. The numbers can't just be for retailers and fast-food restaurants, but for all types of businesses, including Boeing, Starbucks, Washington Mutual, Microsoft and other big employers. If we're going to have a witch hunt, let's light up all the torches.
When push came to shove, I guess the 'Rats were not willing to disembowel themselves publically as being anti-business, especially in an election year. That's good news for the people of Washington, particularly our neediest citizens.
The poor, poor UFCW. All that money, all that arm-twisting, all those political debts, and still no tamale. And they can't stop Wal-Mart's expansion at the local level either. Where have you gone, Jimmy Hoffa?
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