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Nurses breaks bill
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Bill giving breaks to nurses passes without eight-hour shift limit

(Hanna Scott, KIRO Radio)

A bill giving breaks to nurses was passed Wednesday without a controversial eight-hour shift limit, and now heads to Gov. Inslee’s desk to be signed.

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The bill mandates uninterrupted breaks for nurses across every Washington hospital, and closes loopholes allowing health care employers to require overtime. It caught the attention of many, though, when Republican Sen. Maureen Walsh tacked on amendment limiting nurses to eight-hour shifts.

Coupled with comments from Sen. Walsh during deliberations surmising that nurses in rural hospitals “probably play cards for a considerable part of the day,” an uproar ensued.

According to Walsh, she received 10,000 emails, 35,000 phone calls, and was mailed 1,700 decks of cards. She later apologized for her comments, and agreed to shadow a nurse for a 12-hour shift, in response to a petition that garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Nurses overwhelmingly supported the bill in its final form, without the eight-hour shift limits. An additional amendment that would have exempted hospitals in rural areas of the state was also removed.

“It’s even worse for those [rural] hospitals, because they have fewer staff, so who’s there to give them a break?” one nurse told KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott. “Even in the big hospitals, lots of time my lunch is just some chips out of a vending machine.”

“Those breaks are definitely needed and valuable — too many nurses don’t take their breaks and just chart that they did,” Harborview Medical Center nurse Keenan Clinch told MyNorthwest.

After the eight-hour shift limit and rural hospital exemption amendments were initially part of the legislation, lawmakers from the state Senate and House hashed things out in a conference committee behind closed doors.

Ultimately, they came to the conclusion that neither amendment should remain.

“Our loved ones deserve the best care, no matter what hospital they step in, and our nurses deserve the same important worker protections so they can provide the best possible care,” Democratic Rep. Marcus Riccelli said in a news release.

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