Week 6 Legislative Update

Legislative sessions in Washington are organized in part around key deadlines for action on bills in order for those bills to be considered “alive” or eligible for further consideration in the process.

The sixth week of the 2015 legislative session concludes today with the first of these important deadlines, the requirement that a bill that isn’t transportation or budget related be voted out of its committee of origin. Bills that did not receive a committee vote are generally considered “dead” for the session, although there are procedural mechanisms to revive any bill before the final adjournment of the session. Here’s where things stand:

No Workplace Safety legislation in 2015

 So far in 2015, no bills have moved specific to workplace safety. It would appear that issue area is going to be more a matter of regulatory engagement at the Department of Labor & Industries, which is currently in a public comment period on a rule to increase WISHA penalties.

Many Workers’ Comp bills advance in the process

 Of the thirty workers’ compensation bills we are tracking, of which eight are proposals introduced in identical form in both the House and Senate, ten failed to survive today’s cutoff. This leaves twenty bills still alive in the process. These include:

WSIA Priorities and other “friendlies”

  • SB 5510, wage simplification for benefit accuracy and fairness
  • SB 5509, occupational disease coverage
  • SB 5508, fixing third party reimbursement (Tobin)
  • SB 5513, eliminating the age restriction on structured settlements
  • SB 5420, three way workers’ compensation market
  • SB 5331, private group self-insurance
  • SB 5576, requiring employee reporting of injury within 60 days
  • SB 5507, requiring L&I pay a penalty to an employer who prevails on appeal of a penalty order

L&I-backed proposals

  • SB 5451/HB 1496, preferred worker program and vocational rehabilitation
  • SB 5468/HB 1395, L&I spending on self-insured projects without legislative approval

Union/trial lawyer proposals

  • HB 1602, 1603, 1604, firefighter occupational disease coverage expansions/reporting requirements
  • HB 1611, expansive definition of “benefits” and claimant attorney’s fees on appeal of treatment orders
  • HB 1612, increased penalties on self-insurers for unpaid benefits on appeal
  • HB 1613, allowing discretionary medical for certain post-PPD closure claims
  • HB 1194, lifetime pensions for surviving spouses of law enforcement/firefighters regardless of remarriage. WSIA scored an early victory forcing this bill to be funded out of the existing law enforcement/firefighter pension system, not workers’ compensation, as originally introduced.

Now it’s a waiting game

 Most of these bills have been voted into the House and Senate Rules committees. The Rules Committee decides which bills will advance to the floor for a vote. A couple bills, with a possible state budget affect, have gone to an Appropriations committee for further review before possibly going to Rules.

While a bill is pending in Rules, it is a lobbying and waiting game to build sufficient support among the House or Senate majority leadership and Rules Committee members to “pull” the bill to the floor. We will be doing just that for WSIA’s key priority bills.

What happens next?

The cutoff for these bills to be voted off the floor of their house of origin is March 11. Predictably, one or more of the adverse bills will be voted out of the House over to the Senate. We will be working with legislators to ensure that one or more of our priorities is voted over from the Senate to the House. Then, as in past years, the process restarts in the opposite chamber and will ultimately involve negotiation between the majority-Republican Senate and the majority-Democratic House over what policy proposals advance.