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 information.

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.