Week One Legislative Update

Opening Day Work Session

 Monday’s opening of the 65th regular session of the Legislature ushered in a 60-day session where taxes, budgets, and educational funding are likely to be  the top issues. For more on the overall themes going into the Legislative session, see our legislative preview blog post from last Friday. Still, activity in workers' compensation policy is evident in these first couple weeks of session, starting with a work session held on Monday afternoon in the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee.

Continuing the Legislature's interest in the performance audit of workers' compensation claims management completed last fall by the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Committee (JLARC), the House Labor Committee invited JLARC staff to present the auditor's recommendations, followed by comments by the Department, the labor community, the Association of Washington Business, and WSIA. A great deal of interest among committee members was generated by the JLARC recommendation that self-insured employers issue their own allowance orders.

Interested individuals can view a video of the committee's work session at this link and a copy of the JLARC presentation at this link.

Bills Introduced This Session

A few bills have been introduced so far this session:

  • HB 2336, sponsored by Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, would require the Department adjudicate a self-insured employer's request for claim closure within 90 days of the receipt of a request with medical report seeking closure.
  • HB 2337, also sponsored by Rep. Manweller, would cap time loss payments at 60 months.
  • HB 2338, again also sponsored by Rep. Manweller, would end time loss payments when the injured worker reaches maximum medical improvement (medical fixity), as opposed to when a disability is adjudicated closed (legal fixity).
  • HB 2441, sponsored by Rep. Steve Kirby, D-Tacoma, would eliminate the offset of social security benefits against workers' compensation benefits for those workers who had applied to receive SSI benefits or were receiving SSI benefits prior to the date of their injury.

Each of these four bills is up for public hearing next Thursday, January 21st in the House Labor Committee.

Bills from Last Session Still Alive

Bills that were introduced but not passed in last year's legislative session are theoretically eligible for consideration again this session without reintroduction. At this point, the bills from last session receiving the most early buzz for some further discussion are SB 5509, sponsored by Sen. John Braun, R-Chehalis, which is the employer community's longstanding proposal to address Washington's overly broad occupational disease coverage standards; and SB 6081, sponsored by Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, which would establish an office of L&I ombuds for employers within the state's Department of Commerce to advocate the interests of employers regulated by Labor & Industries, on terms similar to the office of ombuds for workers of self-insured employers.

Looking Ahead to Next Week

On Monday, the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee plans to hold a work session on the issue of self-insured independent medical examinations. Taking concerns raised in last fall's Ombuds report as their point of departure, certain members of the committee are interested in hearing from the Ombuds, with responses by the Department, labor, and WSIA, whether there are concerns with the utilization of IMEs in the self-insured community. It is possible but unlikely that some kind of legislative proposal on IMEs could emanate from the work session.

On Thursday, the House Labor Committee will hold public hearings on the aforementioned House bills.

More info, including a bill tracking sheet, will be provided in next week’s update, as more bills are introduced, language becomes available, and the public hearing schedule becomes clearer.