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Where are We on Workers’ Comp Reform?

About half way through the 2011 State Legislative session the fate of workers’ comp reform remains unclear.

AGC and the broader business community continue to push for comprehensive reform that includes a tighter definition of occupational disease and allows voluntary settlements for claims. Meanwhile Labor groups and trial attorneys are opposing meaningful reform while the Governor supports some but not much reform.

The Legislature recently passed a cut-off date on which bills should have passed out of committee or be considered dead for the year. However because workers’ comp reform is such a major issue everything is still on the table. The main pieces of legislation are as follows:

  • Substitute House Bill 1869 and Senate Bill 5801: These measures each have been passed by their respective chambers (without opposition in the Senate and only one “no” vote in the House) and are now before the opposite bodies for consideration. Requested by the Governor AGC agrees in principle with them. They create a state-approved medical provider network and expand centers for occupational health and education to improve occupational health best practices in industrial insurance. Key elements are very close to the original business coalition proposal. Trial lawyers sought to make significant changes to the bill (actually attaching amendments in the House Labor Committee to HB 1869) which would have weakened the effectiveness of the proposals by diminishing L&I’s ability to eliminate poor medical providers and by lessening the department’s authority to require adherence to coverage decisions. Amendments adopted by the Senate to SB 5801 allow provider networks a bit more of a role in developing standards. The objectionable changes pushed by the trial lawyers were stripped from SHB 1869 in an amendment offered by Rep. Cary Condotta (R-12 Wenatchee). At this point both bills are essentially the same. Hearings on each will commence in the opposite committees sometime after March 7.
  • House Bill 1872: This is the measure strongly supported by AGC and its business allies. It clarifies occupational disease coverage and authorizes broader application of voluntary settlements with protections to assure fairness. This legislation has bi-partisan sponsorship and although it missed the cut-off date the topics covered in the bill are still on the table.
  • House Bill 1686 Senate Bill 5566 House Bill 1868. In various combinations this batch of bills contain the Governor’s proposals to address long-term disability and injured worker pension problems by increasing permanent partial disability (PPD) awards by 30% allowing limited establishment of negotiated settlements for older injured workers and offsetting some pension costs with limited earnings and SSI retirement payments. The bills are considered dead because they missed the cut-off date but again the issues they address are still alive. AGC is generally opposed and is skeptical that PPD increases and limited negotiated settlements will work.

AGC members are encouraged to contact their legislators and encourage them to support comprehensive workers’ comp reform this Legislative Session including the clarification of occupational disease and allowance for voluntary settlements as contained in HB 1872. Tell them that we can’t wait to improve services to injured workers and control system costs. The time is now and we need them to step up and act.

For additional information contact AGC’s Director of Government Affairs Rick Slunaker at 360-352-5000.

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