Week 8 Legislative Update

This week’s legislative update is relatively brief. After last Friday’s cutoff for consideration of bills with fiscal impact, the House and Senate began floor action. The biggest issues in workplace and human resource policy in general was the passage on Tuesday of a bill to phase in a statewide $12 per hour minimum wage (HB 1355) and a bill to require all but the smallest employers in Washington provide a certain number of paid sick days per year to employees (HB 1356).

Floor Activity

In workers’ compensation, a few bills did move on the floor. Last week, we erroneously thought House Bill 1194, the lifetime surviving spouse pension for deceased law enforcement and firefighters, was not going to be voted out of the House Appropriations committee by the cutoff, but it did in fact emerge, passing the full House on Wednesday by a vote of 89-9. The WSIA-supported amendment to take the issue outside of workers’ comp and require it to be funded out of the law enforcement and firefighter’s own pension system survived.

Senate Bill 5468, L&I’s bill on the Preferred Worker Program and vocational rehabilitation passed the Senate on Tuesday by a unanimous vote.

Finally, House Bill 1604 creating a working group at L&I to make recommendations on mandatory hazardous material exposure reporting for firefighters passed the House 96-1 on Monday.

Status of WSIA Priorities

Christine Brewer, our contract lobbyist, and I continue to work with legislators, staff, and representatives of allied employer organizations to position WSIA’s priorities – wage/benefit accuracy and simplification (SB 5510) chief among them. These  bills continue to sit in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting a possible “pull” to the Senate floor for consideration. Candidly, we are running into difficulty securing the last votes needed for passage, and the leadership of the majority caucus is aware of this. The last day for a bill to be considered in its house of origin is next Wednesday, March 11. That is our deadline to attempt to get the last few votes into place to bring some mix of these workers’ comp reform bills up for a vote.

Benefit Accuracy Working Group?

An alternative strategy we are working on in the event a majority cannot be garnered for SB 5510 is an amendment that would direct L&I to convene a working group (playing off Director Sacks’ re-casting of the wage simplification issue as one of “benefit accuracy”). Modeled after successful business-labor-department accords on vocational rehabilitation and self-insurance audit reform, the concept behind the working group would be to take the issue outside of the Legislature, where ultimate agreement is unlikely, and attempt to craft legislation for 2016 or 2017 that has a chance of passing. While L&I is receptive to the concept (although it doesn’t necessarily want to be told by the Legislature to do it), so far union representatives are resisting even coming to a table and talking about the issue. While disappointing, we are evaluating some options for preserving the issue and creating pressure on the unions to drop opposition to even discussing improvements to the wage situation. Stay tuned.