What sounds like a convenience for employers is sometimes a cruel joke for low-wage workers. Some employees are paid using payroll cash cards that banks then charge fees for accessing, according to Republican state Rep. Graham Hunt of Orting. Hunt sponsored legislation to curb the practice after a constituent contacted him.
In a nutshell, House Bill 1211 puts into law — and therefore gives more weight to — what the Department of Labor and Industries says is state policy. Employers must offer a method of wage payment that lets the worker be paid in full without fees. And it requires employers using paycheck cards to provide an option to employees that doesn’t require a direct-deposit account.
HB 1211 is co-sponsored by a handful of lawmakers on both sides of aisle, including Democratic Reps. Chris Reykal of Tumwater and Sam Hunt of Olympia, and Republican Rep. Matt Manweller of Ellensburg.
How widespread the pay-card problem is needs clarifying. But the New York attorney general issued a report, “Pinched by Plastic,” on the problem last year, finding fees of up to $20 per month in some payroll programs. That’s not an insignificant sum to someone in a part time or temporary job paying minimum wage.
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Reykdal calls this a “good consumer (and) worker protection bill” and one of several issues on which he and Graham Hunt, an insurance agent, are allied.
Hunt says he expects push back from financial interests in the Senate when HB 1211 is heard Wednesday in committee. But he thinks that a bank issuing payroll cards on behalf of an employer should let workers use its ATMs to cash out the cards — just as a bank lets its own customers use in-network ATMs for free.
It’s not often a Republican-sponsored bill, which is backed by labor, sails through the state House on a 98-to-0 vote. In a year that other bills addressing minimum wage, sick leave and wage theft are likely dead, Graham Hunt has found a small way to help those struggling to earn a living.
Immunization rates need boosting
One major effort to boost childhood immunization rates failed in the Legislature this year. But Washington still needs to improve on its rates — which statewide in schools are below the 95 percent target that ensure a higher level of community protection against outbreaks of such ailments as measles.
The Department of Health now plans to convene meetings after the legislative session with groups such as the Washington State Medical Association and others concerned about the public health implications of parents refusing to vaccinate their children.
One solution proposed in the House, which the state’s doctors supported, took away the right of parents to send kids to school without vaccinating them, if the parent had simply a philosophical objection to the idea. House Bill 2009, which did not get a floor vote, would have still allowed religious and medical exemptions.
Michele Roberts, who oversees the immunization office for DOH, says state vaccination rates are rising but “we’ve got a lot of room for growth” to reach state and national goals. One key in the effort that lies ahead is encouraging parents that choose vaccinations to talk to other parents about why it is good practice to do so.