Bill: Lawmakers could sue employers who fire them for time spent in Olympia

Staff writerJanuary 17, 2014 

While certain bills in the state Senate look to punish lawmakers for not getting done on time, new legislation introduced in the state House Friday tries to ensure lawmakers can keep their regular jobs -- even if they're stuck at the Capitol for six months (like last year).

State Rep. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, is the sponsor of House Bill 2473, which would require employers to grant state legislators a temporary leave of absence so they can serve at the Capitol "without loss of job status."

The bill reads, " An employer may not discharge or threaten to discharge an employee for taking a leave of absence under this chapter."

The measure would allow lawmakers to sue their employers if the law is violated.

According to the text of the bill, "It is the intent of this act to address potential uncertainties that can occur between employers and employees who are part-time legislators because of the time requirements of the legislature."

In 2013, lawmakers were in session between January and June, requiring two overtime special sessions to pass a budget. Lawmakers returned to the Capitol in November for a third special session to vote on tax incentives for the aerospace industry.

In a phone interview Friday, Liias -- who doesn't have a job outside the Legislature right now -- said he is looking to give legislators protections similar to the ones jurors have. He said that after the Legislature's November special session, some of his colleagues told him "they were just starting to have friction with their employers."

Liias said that there should be some protections in place to ensure that the state's part-time, citizen Legislature can remain that way.

"If we want legislators with outside jobs, we have to make an effective way for them to do that," Liias said.

Still, Liias estimated that his proposal would only affect about 40 or 50 people in the Legislature. You know, the ones that hold other jobs.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday before the House Committee on Government Operations & Elections.

Rep. Sam Hunt, an Olympia Democrat who chairs that committee, said he thinks Liias' proposal merits discussion.

"There evidently are a couple of legislators that I guess employers got really grumpy with them last year because of those extra sessions," Hunt said. "I don’t think we ought to be firing people who provide public service as a legislator. So we’re going to take a look at it."

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