Washington State House Democrats


Sells’ 2/17/17 Update: Hanford workers / Day of Remembrance / Non-compete agreements

Justice for Hanford workers

We have a 74-year-old, 560-square-mile nuclear site in Hanford, Washington, that some people refer to as “America’s Chernobyl,” “the biggest nuclear dump in the USA,” and “the most toxic place in the nation.”

The good news is that it’s in the process of being cleaned up. The bad news is that this cleanup could take fifty years to complete. The worse news is that many Hanford workers have developed serious and debilitating illnesses due to being exposed to nuclear waste, known hazards and poisonous chemicals. And the worst news is that they are struggling to get their worker’s compensation claims approved.


The problem is that, to get their benefits, they have to prove that what made them sick was exposure to a specific substance. But they were exposed to many different toxic compounds at Hanford, it’s extremely hard, if not impossible, to identify the precise chemicals that made them ill.

I am one of the sponsors of HB 1723, aimed at fixing this issue by creating a presumption for Hanford nuclear site workers that certain conditions are occupational diseases for the purposes of industrial insurance coverage.  In other words, it would turn the tables and require the employer to prove that a worker’s condition isn’t job related.

Some former Hanford workers came to Olympia to share their stories at a hearing in the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee, which I chair. Having to live with toxic encephalopathy, respiratory diseases, and other neurological issues tied to their work at the nuclear plant is tragic. Hearing what it’s like to survive with those conditions and without benefits was heartbreaking.

We passed the bill out of committee yesterday. I am glad it’s moving and hope we can take it to the floor for a full vote.

Hanford workers have been denied the care they need for far too long. It’s time we step up and bring them and their families justice, relief and treatment.

Day of Remembrance and standing up to federal executive orders

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which sent 120,000 Japanese Americans and people of Japanese descent to incarceration camps. They received no trials, were convicted of no crimes, and were held in camps for up to four years because of where their ancestors originated from, and the color of their skin.

All three branches of the federal government failed to uphold the constitutionally-protected rights of so many during World War II. House and Senate Democrats in Washington state remember those who faced unfair and unconstitutional treatment:

DOR Video

This year we are seeing other forms of discrimination from our federal government. People have been denied entry to the U.S., detained unnecessarily, and even targeted because of where they come from. People in our neighborhoods are living in fear of persecution over what they look like or how they worship. Today we are standing up for those treated unfairly by introducing three measures to protect Washingtonians from bigotry, harassment and abuse:

HB 2097 prohibits state agencies from sharing personal information about religious affiliation with federal authorities.

HB 1988 allows the courts to appoint a guardian for certain immigrant youth between the ages of 18 and 21 who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. These youth are often victims of human trafficking or other types of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. This bill helps provide them with a support network and resources.

HB 2029 provides a hotline for immigration resources, and helps agencies track incidences of harassment throughout the state.

It is hard to believe that our communities need these laws. Unfortunately, they do. We have seen an increase in hurtful rhetoric by federal officials, and an increase in organized hate groups. As elected officials, our job is to protect our neighbors. These bills do exactly that.

Combating non-compete agreements

Many people are familiar with the concept of a non-compete agreement. If an executive leaves a tech company, for example, it makes sense that they should not be able to work right away for a direct competitor. What most people do not realize is that low-wage workers are often subject to non-compete agreements as well.

This puts many people at risk of financial hardship. If you are a grocery store clerk and your hours are cut, you may be prevented from taking a second job or looking for work elsewhere.

I am supporting HB 1967 to address this problem. It would void non-compete agreements for seasonal and temporary employees, independent contractors, or employees laid off or terminated without just cause.

Thank you for taking the time to read my newsletter. I hope you found its content informative. If you have questions about any of the bills discussed above or you have some feedback, please give my office a call or send me an email.