Week 2 Highlights

Major bills introduced this week

On Thursday, the Senate introduced four WSIA priority bills: SB 5510 simplifying the wage calculation with a flat rate and 4-quarter averaging; SB 5509, addressing occupational disease coverage; SB 5513 removing the age limitation on structured settlements; and SB 5508 reversing the Tobin case and allowing for reimbursement of all damages except loss of consortium in third party claims. We expect public hearings in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee on these bills early the week of February 2, and will be reaching out to self-insured employers to join us in testimony supporting them.

 Other employer-side workers' comp bills introduced this week include HB 1454 limiting benefits in the event of injury due to intoxication/influence of drugs, SB 5331 authorizing private group self-insurance, SB 5420 allowing 3-way workers' comp insurance, SB 5507 mandating a degree of fee shifting for an employer who prevails on appeal of a penalty at the Board, SB 5512 allowing retrospective ratings groups to schedule IMEs and voc counseling, and SB 5516 creating a voluntary settlement agreement program more robust than the current structured settlements option.

 L&I bills

 The department's two workers' compensation related bills were also introduced this week, HB 1496/SB 5451, enhancing the Preferred Worker Program in the state fund, and making the vocational improvement pilot project permanent, with enhancements to the option 2 benefit and other enhancements; and SB 5468, with authorizes the agency to spend state funds on the Stay at Work program and on self-insurance projects without prior legislative approval.

 Claimant-side bills

 On Friday, a handful of claimant-side bills were introduced in the House: HB 1602 and HB 1603, including EMTs and public fire investigators, respectively, in the presumption of occupational disease for firefighters, and HB 1604 directing L&I to convene a working group to study mandatory hazardous material exposure for firefighters. The House also introduced HB 1611, expansively codifying what constitutes a "benefit" for purposes of penalizing self-insureds for delayed or denied benefit payments, as well as providing for claimants' costs and attorney's fees on successful appeal to the Board, payable by the state fund or self-insured employer. HB 1612 imposes additional penalties on self-insured employers for failure to pay benefits timely on appeal to the Board, and HB 1613 reverses the Slaugh decision by explicitly granting L&I authority to authorize discretionary medical treatment after a PPD closure. We would expect each of these claimant-side bills to receive a hearing in the House Labor Committee in coming weeks.

 Looking ahead to next week

 Currently, the only workers' compensation bill scheduled for hearing next week is HB 1194, the bill allowing surviving spouses of deceased law enforcement officers and firefighters to continue receiving the death benefit pension payment regardless of remarriage. We intend to share concerns at the hearing that the bill mistakes a wage replacement benefit for an accrued, vested retirement benefit, and creates unequal classes within the system by privileging just a few.