Union, Inslee take no sides on bill to reduce home-assignment waste

bshannon@theolympian.comFebruary 20, 2013 

The Washington Federation of State Employees and Gov. Jay Inslee’s policy advisers were mostly neutral Tuesday on a bill that would let state agencies give tasks to workers sent home due to allegations of wrongdoing, avoiding the waste of paying workers to do nothing.

The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Matt Manweller of Ellensburg got a hearing in the House Government Operations & Elections Committee.

Manweller testified that the goal was to allow employees on home reassignment to help out in some way by doing part of their jobs without “being in the environment where the conflict had arisen. But we’re not paying someone a salary to play Xbox at home or play Wii.’’

A KING-5 television report last year found that since 2006, the state had paid more than 1,000 employees to stay home during investigations, costing $17.2 million for salaries and benefits during the time off. And 50 workers were kept off the job for a year.

Julie Murray of the governor’s budget office said then-Gov. Chris Gregoire made changes last year aimed at reducing home assignments. Murray said that at last count there were 13 state employees home on assignment and that the Department of Corrections and the State Patrol used home assignment most often during investigations of misconduct.

“We’re going to err on the side of caution and use home assignment when doing that investigation,” Murray testified. But she signaled some support for the bill, saying she thinks the state already has a good practice in place but that “offering some kind of continuity would be a good thing.’’

Murray said one problem in having workers do tasks is when there are fitness-for-duties issues — such as when a person is arrested or no longer able to perform job functions. She suggested changes to the bill to push the issue to a review by an agency’s human resources division and agency director or the head of a board or commission that oversees the agency.

Matt Zuvich of the Washington Federation of State Employees said the union was neutral on the bill. But he said members “kind of like the goal of the bill, which is to expedite the process.’’

Committee chairman Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, said later that he doesn’t plan to schedule a committee vote for House Bill 1460 before Friday’s deadline. He said Manweller has asked him to defer to the Senate, which is considering an identical bill.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688 bshannon@theolympian.com www.theolympian.com/politicsblog

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