February 21, 2020 Legislative Update

Three weeks remain until the adjournment of the 2020 legislative session in Washington, and while we are technically past the midpoint of the 60-day session, this past Wednesday, February 19th marked the first truly significant deadline by which non-budget bills had to pass their chamber of origin in order to remain alive. 

Here are the top issues in workers' comp and safety at this point:

  • IMEs. SSB 6440 was amended on the floor of the Senate to become primarily an interim workgroup bill. It does enact some new policy around IMEs including setting forth the reasons for which they may be ordered, including a new definition of a “new medical issue,” addressing no-show fees, and addressing the “reasonably convenient” nature of IMEs for the injured worker including location and potentially telemedicine. No one is particularly thrilled with this compromise, least of all the claimants’ lawyers for whom this bill was a top priority. They wanted the whole enchilada of regulations and restrictions they original proposed. For our side, we were able to survive with the bare minimum of regulation that was necessary to then allow us to fight another day in the more neutral working group. The bill is up for public hearing in the House Labor Committee on Monday the 24th. WSIA is officially neutral at that point, but behind the scenes protective of the compromise lest it unravel and we end up with worse.
  • Penalties, Fair Conduct, and TPA licensing. SHB 2409 passed the House after a contentious floor vote Tuesday evening, with a 52-44 vote signaling bi-partisan opposition, as five majority Democrats crossed party lines to vote with 39 minority Republicans against the bill. Twelve amendments to reduce the impact of the bill were voted down by the majority before passage. The bill remains in the same form as it cleared the House Labor Committee: (a) significantly increased RCW 51.48 penalties, including an up-to $1,700 “per occurrence” multiplier on the self-insurance delay of benefits penalty; (b) enactment of a new “fair conduct” responsibility in claims handling applied to all employers and employer representatives, details TBD in rules but punishable by a penalty of one to ten times the state’s average weekly wage at the time (currently, about $1,300 to $13,000), and (c) a poorly worded section apparently calling for the licensure of all self-administered and third-party administered claims handlers, details again TBD in rules. The bill is up for public hearing in the Senate Labor Committee on Monday the 24th. Along with a unified employer community, WSIA remains strongly opposed to this bill and working to defeat or severely limit it.
  • Captives. SSB 6331 and SHB 2493, allowing for the use of captive insurance in Washington at a 2 percent premium tax on Washington-based risk, is alive but on hold while folks try to work a compromise. The Office of Insurance Commissioner seeks a premium tax on nationwide risk self-insured through a captive by Washington-based companies, thus far standing in the way of an agreement.
  • “Qui Tam,” Private Right of Action for Labor Laws. HB 1965 died at cutoff. It would have allowed a private right of action for an individual to sue on behalf of a state agency to allege violations of laws and rules that otherwise are solely within the purview of the agency, for example L&I and the Washington Industrial Safety & Health Act.
  • 3-Day Waiting Period. SSB 6552 died at cutoff. In its amended form, it would have lowered the threshold for picking up benefits on the 3-day waiting period from 14 days of time loss to seven.
  • Health Care/Musculoskeletal Injuries. HB 2646 died at cutoff. It would have required L&I to establish best practices to reduce risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders in the health care sector and would have provided for potential premium discounts for employers who follow them, along with financial aid to purchase necessary equipment.