State employees, students could take off religious holidays under bill

Staff writerMarch 11, 2014 

Several state offices operate out of the the General Administration Building, shown here in a file photo from Jan. 3, 2013.

TONY OVERMAN — The Olympian Buy Photo

State employees and students in public schools will be able to take off two days per year for religious reasons under a measure headed to Gov. Jay Inslee.

House Bill 5173 unanimously passed the Senate Tuesday after members agreed to accept several amendments made by the House. The House previously approved the legislation on a 64-32 vote.

The measure as approved by the full Legislature would require state agencies and agency subdivisions to give employees two unpaid days off per year for reasons of faith, conscience, or for religious events.

State agencies would have to allow their employees to take the unpaid absences on specific days that have religious significance, unless the employee being gone those days would affect public safety or cause undue hardship.

The legislation would also require public schools to allow students two excused absences per year for religious holidays or purposes of worship.

The measure now heads to Inslee to be signed into law.

Earlier in the legislative session, supporters of the bill said it would help people who belong to religions other than Christianity. Many other faiths, including Islam and Judaism, celebrate holidays that don't coincide with ones already recognized by the state, supporters said.

Lawmakers from both parties spoke in favor of the bill as it came up for final passage Tuesday.

The bill's primary sponsor, Democratic Sen. Bob Hasegawa of Seattle, said the bill is "important not just to my district, but to all people in the state of Washington."

"We’re a nation of many faiths and many traditions, and I think we need to have the ability to respect all of those," said Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane.

Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, said the Legislature approving the bill shows lawmakers are concerned with protecting citizens' religious rights.

"It sets a good example that this is a state that takes our freedom of religion very seriously," Kline said.

The Olympian is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service