Over the past few days, as the Washington State House of Representatives has worked earnestly to consider and vote out legislation ahead of today’s house of origin cutoff, it has become apparent that State Representative Jim Walsh (R‑19th District) has a frightening anger management problem.
Walsh’s colleagues have come to expect bombast from him when he speaks from the floor. But on several recent occasions, including last Friday, his angry tirades have become more than a nuisance. They have brought the House’s work to a halt.
Walsh’s repeated inability to comply with the House’s rules has left Speaker Pro Tem John Lovick (who shares presiding duties in the chamber with fellow Speaker Pro Tem Tina Orwall) with no choice but to gavel him out of order and then to call the House into recess when Walsh would not stop yelling over the gavel.
On Friday, March 8th, the House was in the midst of an extensive debate on HB 1523, intended to increase the availability of quality, affordable health coverage in the individual market. The bill is part of a push by Democratic lawmakers, as well as Governor Jay Inslee, to offer practical legislation for a public option plan for those who buy insurance on Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange.
Supporters of the bill, including House leadership, believe it will help lower health care costs in the state by requiring three standardized plans be available on the exchange, while opponents of the bill claim it will in fact increase costs.
Currently, Washington residents compare and buy individual health coverage through private carriers on the Exchange. Under HB 1523, the Exchange would work with the state insurance commissioner, the Washington Health Care Authority, and others, to create three other standardized plans.
Beginning in 2021, at least two of the standardized plans would have to be offered through available carriers, in addition to the others they normally offer.
The bill might seem fairly mundane to an outside observer.
Jim Walsh sees it very differently.
“This bill isn’t socialized medicine, this bill is the train wreck that comes first, and then there’s socialized medicine,” he thundered after being recognized to speak.
“In my district we’ve suffered from [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] and all its empty promises of being able to keep your position and coverage. We’ve lived through the pain of seeing that you don’t get to keep your position, because the physicians all move away,” he yelled. “These programs are designed to strip rural Washington of its healthcare choices. This is not the way to reform, in any rational sense, our healthcare delivery system. We all want that. We want a system that can deliver good quality care to everyone in the state.”
He went on to insinuate that the bill would strip funding from Medicare and other current insurance options of rural Washingtonians.
“[The Patient Protection Act] was a failure,” he bellowed.
“This socialized medicine mélange will be a failure and frankly, I don’t think it’s an unintended consequence, Mr. Speaker. I think this is designed.”
Shortly after Walsh made these comments, the House was temporarily gaveled into recess due to Walsh’s violation of Chapter XIII of Reed’s Parliamentary Rules.
The punishment which can be inflicted depends upon the character of the assembly, and is in legal assemblies usually limited by law. In voluntary assemblies it may be censure, reprimand, or expulsion, or a demand for apology on pain of expulsion. It almost always happens, when attention is called to the unsuitable nature of the words used by the member, or the acts performed by him, that he makes such an explanation or retraction as enables the assembly to excuse him and go on with its business.
By calling into question the motives of the bill’s authors and failing to observe proper decorum on the floor, Walsh was in clear violation of the House’s rules of debate.
In accordance with its procedures, at the time Walsh’s mic was cut by Lovick, TVW (Washington’s equivalent of C‑SPAN) ceased to show Walsh speaking and instead switched to a camera pointed at the rostrum. The subsequent video shows Lovick repeatedly banging his gavel, with Walsh now off-screen and unheard.
According to sources who were in the chamber, Walsh continued shouting over the gavel as the mic was cut and his access to TVW’s viewing audience terminated.
When the House of Representatives resumed its work a short time later, the bill passed easily and was sent to the Senate for further consideration.
The roll call was a party line vote, as follows:
Individual health ins market
Yeas: 57; Nays: 41
Voting Yea: Representatives Appleton, Bergquist, Blake, Callan, Chapman, Cody, Davis, Doglio, Dolan, Entenman, Fey, Fitzgibbon, Frame, Goodman, Gregerson, Hansen, Hudgins, Jinkins, Kilduff, Kirby, Kloba, Leavitt, Lekanoff, Lovick, Macri, Mead, Morgan, Morris, Ormsby, Ortiz-Self, Orwall, Paul, Pellicciotti, Peterson, Pettigrew, Pollet, Ramos, Reeves, Riccelli, Robinson, Ryu, Santos, Sells, Senn, Shewmake, Slatter, Springer, Stanford, Stonier, Sullivan, Tarleton, Thai, Tharinger, Valdez, Walen, Wylie, Chopp
Voting Nay: Representatives Barkis, Boehnke, Caldier, Chambers, Chandler, Corry, DeBolt, Dent, Dufault, Dye, Eslick, Gildon, Goehner, Graham, Griffey, Harris, Hoff, Irwin, Jenkin, Klippert, Kraft, Kretz, MacEwen, Maycumber, McCaslin, Mosbrucker, Orcutt, Rude, Schmick, Shea, Smith, Steele, Stokesbary, Sutherland, Van Werven, Vick, Volz, Walsh, Wilcox, Ybarra, Young
Sources tell NPI that late Tuesday evening, Walsh again behaved inappropriately and failed to follow the rules of debate on the House floor. Walsh’s repeated failure to follow House rules could result in punishment being imposed by his caucus or by the entire ninety-eight member House of Representatives… or both.
This is a developing story.