Week 11 Legislative Update

Last Friday we did not send out an update as we were at Spring Conference, so let’s jump back into the action this morning with what’s happening “under the dome” in Olympia.

 Next Wednesday, April 1, marks the deadline for bills that passed out of their house of origin to be passed out of the policy committee in the opposite house. That means, for our purposes, that bills that previously cleared the Senate and were referred to the House Labor Committee will have to be heard in public hearing and voted out of that committee by next Wednesday, and likewise bills that previously passed the House and were referred to the Senate Commerce & Labor committee.

 So far, with two exceptions, the eight bills we’re continuing to track and work on have already passed, or are expected to pass, this latest legislative deadline. Details:

  • ESB 5510, Benefit Accuracy Working Group. This effort to advance the discussion on wage simplification issues has been WSIA’s top priority and where we’ve spent the bulk of our lobbying time. Born out of the original wage simplification bill, this bill simply directs Labor & Industries to convene a collaborative group of employer and worker, state fund and self-insured, representatives to discuss issues related to the accuracy, consistency, simplicity, and fairness of the existing wage calculation model, without cutting overall benefits. Even setting this table has required substantial effort, and Labor and the Trial Lawyers have been resistant to even discussing potential improvements, lest the current mix of winners and losers in the existing system be upset. The bill was heard in public hearing on Tuesday afternoon, with the AFL-CIO and Trial Lawyer lobbyists both expressing concerns about advancing the discussion. However, through some diplomacy and further cosmetic amendment to the working group model to address their concerns, the bill was voted out of the House Labor Committee unanimously yesterday. While this tentative agreement will need to be protected through the House Rules Committee, a House floor vote, and back to the Senate to concur in the House amendment, we’re optimistic we can keep working to make this priority finally happen this session.
  • ESB 5513, Structured Settlement Eligibility Expansion. For the third year in a row, the Senate has passed a bill expanding eligibility for structured settlements by eliminating (or, in this version, reducing to age 40) the age restriction. And for the third year in a row, the House Labor Committee has sat on the bill, refusing to hear or move it along. As frustrating as it is to continually confront an immovable mountain of opposition to such a modest proposal, the reality is that this issue is dead for the year.
  • SSB 5418, Paradigm’s Catastrophic Claims Pilot. This bill directs L&I to launch a three-year pilot program to contract out a handful of specified catastrophic condition claims to outside claim/medical management (read: Paradigm). Although the bill passed the Senate unanimously, it was heard in the House Labor Committee yesterday and engendered some opposition, including by the chair of L&I’s Industrial Insurance Medical Advisory Committee (IIMAC), Dr. Diana Chamblin of the Everett Clinic, who expressed concerns about fostering a proprietary treatment model that competes with the Centers of Occupational Health and Education (COHE) model and other Department-led ventures on public health and medical management without sharing data and best practices. Vickie Kennedy, on the Department’s behalf, testified to a number of potential improvements to the pilot concept around transparency and reporting back on outcomes. The bill is scheduled for a committee vote on Monday, but it is not at all clear if the committee majority supports voting it out, without further amendment.  
  • HB 1496/SB 5451, L&I’s Return to Work companion bills. These two identical bills, which create cash incentives for (the most part) State Fund employers to use the currently underutilized Preferred Worker Program, as well as cement the 2007 changes to the vocational rehabilitation statute with expansions to Option 2 benefits and a tuition cap, continue to moving along toward passage in both chambers, having cleared their respective policy committees this week.
  • SB 5468, L&I’s Special Project Spending Authorization. While the House version of this bill is dead, the Senate version of L&I’s proposal to spend money on specified projects, including projects negotiated with the self-insured community, without prior legislative approval, continues to move along, having cleared the House Appropriations Committee earlier this week.
  • HB 1604, Working Group on Firefighter Hazardous Exposure Reporting. This bill brought forward by the firefighter’s union to direct L&I to bring together a stakeholder group to discuss implementing hazardous exposure reporting requirements for firefighter employers is scheduled for a vote later this morning in the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee. To a certain extent, this “working group” for Labor is being viewed by some as a political trade for our working group, above, on benefit accuracy. We’re working on managing that dynamic to keep our bill moving along.
  • SHB 1194, Surviving Spouse of Fire/Police Pensions/Remarriage. Fixed in the House to be expense-neutral work the State Fund and Self-Insurers, this bill would provide the equivalent of the workers’ comp “widow’s pension” to certain law and fire employees who die on duty, despite the surviving spouse’s remarriage. The funds, if passed, would come out of their public pension system. Provided the bill keeps moving in that form and doesn’t revert back to a workers’ compensation issue, it’s non-controversial.