One bill could lead to thousands of workers paying dues to Service Employees International Union 775 (SEIU), a major Democratic Party force. Another bill weakens Washington’s Public Disclosure Act.

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OLYMPIA — The Washington Senate approved a pair of Democratic, union-backed bills Saturday that have drawn fierce debate at the Capitol.

By a 26-21 vote, lawmakers agreed to Senate Bill 6199, a bill that restructures the state’s contracting process for tens of thousands of home health-care workers.

Requested by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) and supported by Democrats and Gov. Jay Inslee, the bill could also lead to thousands of workers paying dues to Service Employees International Union 775 (SEIU).

That’s because the proposal would eventually allow SEIU — a major Democratic political contributor — to negotiate a contract that could remove a provision allowing home health-care workers to opt out of paying union dues.

Republicans loudly protested the bill over the past week, stalling it during a late-night debate.

GOP senators have decried the bill as unnecessarily expensive — legislative analysis shows it will ultimately cost at least $11 million annually — and complained it could force home health-care workers to pay union dues.

“This truly is the ugly underbelly of politics,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, Saturday during the floor debate.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, called the criticism and previous remarks by Republicans about labor a “disrespectful and unfair attacks on unions.”

Cleveland called the proposal’s cost necessary and defended unions by recounting how her father lost his job when she was young, causing the family to struggle.

“The turning point didn’t come until the day my dad secured a full-time union job,” said Cleveland, the bill’s sponsor.

Disclosure vs. privacy

Lawmakers also passed Senate Bill 6079, legislation that weakens Washington’s Public Disclosure Act by exempting public employee dates of birth. That bill passed 25-22.

Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson of Maury Island has said lawmakers are concerned about state employees’ personal information being requested by people harassing them or being posted on the web. She also acknowledged unions have pushed for the bill.

But Rowland Thompson of Allied Daily Newspapers has said that birth dates are still public in the state’s voter files, meaning people wishing to use that data for nefarious purposes can still get it.

Meanwhile, the bill makes it harder to track and hold accountable state employees who have broken the law or acted improperly, Thompson said in a previous legislative hearing.

Both proposals now go to the state House for consideration.