Washington Legislature passes bill mandating hospitals give rest and meal breaks to nurses

Nurses and other hospital staff would get regular rest and meal breaks and other guarantees in their schedules under a bill that received final approval in both chambers of the Legislature on Wednesday.

The issue became a sensation in the past week when an Eastern Washington lawmaker suggested nurses in small hospitals with relatively few patients don’t need mandated breaks, because their schedules are such that they probably spend part of their shift playing cards.

Nurses responded by sending Sen. Maureen Walsh, R-College Place, tens of thousands of emails and, at last count, 1,700 decks of playing cards.

With nurses and medical technicians looking on from the galleries Wednesday — including one dressed in a costume of the king of hearts from a deck of cards — the Senate and the House both passed a revised version of a mandatory scheduling bill for health-care workers. Earlier in day, several hundred of them had gathered on the steps of the Legislative Building to demand a vote.

“It’s taken 10 years to pass this bill,” Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, a longtime supporter of the change, said after the Senate approved it on a 32-16 vote.

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