February 15, 2019 Legislative Update
Today marks the end of the fifth week of the legislative
session. The focus in the House and Senate has become more on voting on bills
in committee and less on introducing and hearing new bills. The deadline for
bills to receive a vote in a non-fiscal committee and still be considered alive
for the session is next Friday. Here is this week’s run-down of key events on
bills we are working:
1. SB 5217, the Wage Calculation Bill
Action on the wage calculation bill have slowed somewhat. A
scheduled negotiation between business and labor reps for last Friday was
cancelled due to inclement weather, as was a self-insurance only discussion
with Vickie Kennedy about the calculation model that was set for this past
Monday. (Note: That discussion has been re-set for next Thursday, 2/21 at 1pm
as a meeting here at WSIA or a conference call. If you want info about it,
reply to me).
Meanwhile, while there have been no further discussions on
the bill, it has been scheduled for a vote in committee on Monday the 18th.
In informal discussions off to the side with worker advocates, the message
appears to be slowly catching on that no bill right now would be better for all
concerned than this bill. We will have more information come Monday whether the
bill moves out of committee, peters out for the session, or takes on some new
life or form.
2. SB 5844, the Claim Confidentiality Bill
Introduced late last week and quickly set for hearings and
committee votes, SB 5844 as introduced would have created a category of
employer “agents” with a “need to know” confidential claim file information,
and would have penalized employers or agents for unauthorized distribution of
claim file information. It would also have required all employers create a
written policy to address the storage and confidentiality of claim file
After the public hearings on the House (HB 1909) and Senate
versions of the bill this week, it was clear that it was brought forward by
public safety unions to protect the confidentiality of mental health treatment
notes after an unfortunate incident at a small firehouse involving a
firefighter who had filed a PTSD claim.
WSIA negotiated a compromise amendment with the proponents
that removes the concept of “agent” with “need to know” and instead retains the
existing law’s reference to an employer or employer’s duly authorized
representative who may access claim file information; eliminates the written
policy requirement; and limits the penalty exposure to unauthorized
dissemination of mental health condition or treatment information only. The
amendment, finally, would require the Department to alert employers of this new
obligation at the time of claim initiation.
The Senate bill is set for a vote on this amendment next
week. This one is very likely to become law this session.
3. HB 1913, the Occupational Disease Presumptions Bill
Also likely to pass this year, involving the same police and
fire unions, HB 1913 was heard and voted out of the House committee this week.
As we’ve been following, it adds a handful of cancers to the firefighter
presumption and applies that presumption to fire investigators. It also
includes cardiovascular presumptions for law enforcement officers. Finally, it
creates the nation’s only (to our knowledge) scientific advisory panel to
subject any future requests for presumptive coverage to epidemiological review.
As a result of the compromise between the unions and WSIA and the counties’ and
cities’ associations, it’s highly likely this bill becomes law.
4. Odds & Ends
- Independent Contractors. A whole host of bills
attempting to address the issue of classifying an individual as a worker or independent
contractor appear to be losing steam in favor of a task force or working group
to try and improve the definitions over the legislative interim.
-- Off duty lawful conduct. We continue to follow SB
5226, which would prohibit employers from taking action against an employee or
prospective employee on the basis of lawful off-duty conduct. This bill was set
for a vote yesterday in the Senate Law & Justice Committee, but evidently
no vote has taken place.
-- Three way. Although it will not see the light of day in the current political climate, a new bill was introduced this week in the House, HB 2025, that would create a task force to study how to transition Washington’s workers’ compensation system to a competitive, three-way system. It’s more of a message bill coming from a handful of pro-business House members than anything.