Pressure Mounts for Workers' Comp Reform; Conway Still Says No

Public pressure for movement on the workers’ compensation reform bill supported by AGC continues to grow but an important legislative cut-off date looms. The House Commerce and Labor Committee has refused to even hold a hearing; on the Senate side Lori Carlson Daigle Senior Vice President and Risk Manager for Sellen Construction testified yesterday on behalf of reform.

Feb. 5 is the date by which bills should be reported out of their original committee or they are considered dead for the year (although it is possible however remotely that the Legislature could revive them even after the cut-off date). At press time the chairman of the House Labor and Commerce Committee Rep. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma) had still refused to give HB 2950 a hearing much less a vote.

AGC is continuing to press Rep. Conway and efforts by AGC and a business coalition have generated virtually unanimous editorial support around the state including this recent editorial in the Tacoma News Tribune. The TNT editorial says in part “If the specter of 20 percent rate increases isn’t enough to scare the Democratic majority into action then the wake-up call delivered by a state audit last month should be. The audit found that L&I’s experts were overly optimistic about the fiscal soundness of workers’ compensation accounts. In one fund L&I had underestimated the shortfall by nearly 45 percent.”

On the Senate side the Labor and Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday dedicated to workers’ compensation but not to specific reform legislation. AGC and its members however used the opportunity to make the case for reform.

Lori Carlson Daigle (Sellen Construction) testified on behalf of AGC focusing on the challenges with the current system and why HB 2950 is necessary particularly with regard to Washington State’s unusually broad definition of occupational disease. “The workers’ compensation system was never intended to be 24 hour health coverage” she said. “We need to get back to original intent to take care of workers who are injured in the course of employment.” (To view Carlson Daigle’s testimony see link at end of article.)

Meanwhile various bills to privatize workers’ comp have been introduced (HB 2879 HB 3149 and SB 6799). No action at all is expected on these measures this year but the stage is being set for a ballot initiative. The AGC membership will consider its position on any initiative after the legislative session ends and continue to push for reform now. AGC emphasizes the point that no matter who provides the workers’ comp insurance the systemic reforms contained in HB 2950 would still be necessary to rein in costs.

HB 2950 would make these improvements to the workers’ comp system:

  • Create a Settlement Option. Allow workers employers and L&I the option to settle and release claims for a lump sum. Washington is in a tiny minority of states that forbid this proven claims resolution mechanism.
  • Better Define Occupational Disease. Washington has one of the broadest occupational disease definitions in the country. It must be revised to exclude conditions that are not work-related.
  • Establish Medical Provider Networks. Injured workers deserve access to medical providers trained and experienced in treating their particular condition – as is the practice in 42 other states. We need to establish these networks to treat injured workers statewide.

For more information on workers’ comp reform legislation contact AGC’s Government Affairs Manager Christine Swanson 360-352-5000.