Week 3 Highlights

 Big Ticket Employer Issues Predominate

The most significant developments in labor & workforce policy this week did not have to do with workers’ compensation or safety, but rather proposals in the House of Representatives to increase the state’s minimum wage over time to $12/hour statewide, as well as impose a number of paid sick day requirements on employers similar to the ordinance in Seattle, SeaTac, and (quite recently) Tacoma. Those bills were heard in committee on Monday, and voted out of committee yesterday. In addition, bills requiring a minimum number of paid vacation days and a new payroll tax for a paid family and medical leave system were heard in the House Labor committee yesterday. But while the big picture was focused on big ticket HR mandates, there was some activity in workers’ comp policy.

 Three Bills Heard in Committee

 On Tuesday, the House Labor Committee heard testimony on HB 1194, a bill brought forward by the Law Enforcement Officers and Fire Fighters (LEOFF) plan 2 retirement board to grant lifetime death benefits for surviving spouses of LEOFF members and state patrol retirement system members who died on the job. This would change the current policy, evident in Washington and 22 or the other 24 states that offer lifetime death benefits, that such pension payments terminate upon a surviving spouse’s remarriage. Further, the bill would apply only to surviving spouses of workers employed in those public safety fields. WSIA opposed the bill on the basis that creating separate classes is poor public policy, and that the bill fundamentally misunderstands the differences between a retirement system like LEOFF and workers’ compensation. Emotions were high as testimony by proponents included a number of widows of police officers killed in the line of duty. Opposing the bill along with WSIA was the Association of Washington Cities and the Association of Washington Counties. Although Labor & Industries did not take a position on the bill, in response to questions by lawmakers, Vickie Kennedy tacitly validated the policy concerns we raised. You can see (partial) video and audio of the hearing on HB 1194 at this link, from about timestamp 2:56 to about 42:00 (WSIA testimony at about 16:45). 

 The House Labor Committee also took testimony on HB 1253, sponsored by Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, which requires written employee notification of an injury to an employer prior to filing a claim, with certain narrow exceptions. Rep. Manweller brought the bill forward to flesh out what the statute means by an employee’s obligation to report an accident “forthwith,” on the basis of concerns brought forward by a constituent. A number of groups most closely aligned with the retrospective ratings community supported the bill in testimony, while unions, claimants’ counsel, and Labor & Industries opposed. L&I’s concerns were chiefly around the fact that the required employer notification must be prior to the filing of the injury claim with the Department. WSIA signed in supporting the bill, but did not offer testimony. You can see the public hearing on HB 1253 at this link from about timestamp 42:00 to about 1:01:30.  

 On the Senate side, this morning the Senate took public hearing on SB 5418, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, which would require Labor & Industries to initiate a catastrophic claims pilot project and allow partnership with a medical management firm to treat and manage a certain number of catastrophically injured worker claims over the next three years. The bill is brought forward by Paradigm Outcomes, the California-based medical management firm who desires to do some catastrophic claims management for the state fund in Washington, but who has been consistently turned away by Labor & Industries.  Paradigm representatives testified in support, while the Labor Council opposed for fear the pilot would interfere with the Centers of Occupational Health and Education (COHEs), the Department expressed logistical concerns, and the claimants’ bar pointed out some technical concerns but didn’t necessary oppose the bill. WSIA signed in supporting the bill, but did not testify.  

 Looking Ahead to Next Week

 At least in terms of committee work, next week is our Super Bowl for Workers’ Comp bills, good, bad, and indifferent. Thirteen different bills will be heard in the House and Senate committees on Wednesday and Thursday. The basic schedule of bills is:

 Wednesday, 2/4, 1:30 p.m., Senate Commerce & Labor Committee

·         SB 5510, benefit accuracy, consistency, and fairness (wage simplification) **WSIA priority

·         SB 5513, removing age limits on structured settlements, WSIA supports

·         SB 5516, adopting a broader compromise & release type settlements program, WSIA


·         SB 5509, occupational disease coverage proximate cause, WSIA supports

·         SB 5331, private group self-insurance, WSIA has comments

·         SB 5420, three-way workers’ compensation, WSIA would support philosophically

 Thursday, 2/5, 8:00 a.m., House Labor Committee

·         HB 1496, L&I’s bill expanding Preferred Worker and Vocational Improvement Project,

                       WSIA supports

·         HB 1602, Expanding firefighter presumption of occupational disease for EMTs, WSIA


·         HB 1603, Expanding firefighter presumption of occupational disease for fire investigators,

                       WSIA opposes

·         HB 1604, Requiring a L&I working group study and report back on occ disease exposure

                       reporting for firefighters, WSIA opposes in principle; politically difficult to fight a


·         HB 1611, Expands Coston by broadly defining “benefits” to allow for greater penalties, and

                        authorizes attorney’s fees and costs on appeal to the Board for the prevailing

                        claimant, WSIA opposes **priority

·         HB 1612, Provides an escalating menu of new penalties on self-insureds for failure to timely

                       pay benefits on appeal, WSIA opposes **priority

·         HB 1613, Reverses Slaugh by authorizing discretionary post-PPD medical treatment, no

                        position presently