January 24, 2020 Legislative Update

The second week of Washington’s legislative session ends today. There were impactful public hearings and work sessions this week on issues we are tracking, as well as some new bills introduced that need feedback. Additionally, very important bills are coming up for hearing next week. Here’s a rundown:

Feedback Requested: Bills introduced to eliminate TTD waiting period, cover PTSD for 911 operators, and protect marijuana users

We’re following a trio of new bills introduced this week and solicit your feedback/comments on them. First, SB 6552 by Senator Derek Stanford (D-Bothell), would simply eliminate the 3-day waiting period for receiving time loss benefits. We’re unclear where this push is coming from – it sounds like a constituent issue. Every state and federal workers’ comp system (not to mention every state-ran or private insurance disability system) has a brief waiting period. This is a routine and until now non-controversial aspect of our system. We’ll be presenting testimony opposed. This bill will be heard next Tuesday in the Senate Labor Committee.

Next, HB 2758 by Rep. Chris Corry (R-Yakima) would extend PTSD occupational disease coverage to 911 emergency dispatch employees. You may recall a couple years ago the general rule that mental health/stress based conditions are excluded from occupational disease coverage was amended to allow police officers and firefighters to make presumption claims. This bill would include 911 operators in the coverage, but not the presumption. I’m putting this one tentatively in the opposed column, because where do you draw the “first responder” line? Self-insured employers of 911 operators (and others): please send me your thoughts. This bill is up for hearing on Monday morning in the House Labor Committee.

Finally, HB 2740 was introduced by Rep. Shelley Kloba (D-Kirkland). While not a workers’ comp bill per se, HB 2740 would make it illegal to refuse to hire an individual whose pre-employment screen showed evidence of lawful use of marijuana, unless the type of employment fell within certain enumerated exceptions. The general feeling on this one is that the enumerated exceptions are not broad enough to satisfy enough employers’ drug-free workplace policies or legitimate safety and accident prevention prerogatives. This bill is set for hearing next Tuesday afternoon in the House Labor Committee.  

Bad faith/Penalties bill heard in the House while Insurance Captives gets work session in the Senate

This past Tuesday in the House Labor Committee, lawmakers heard from many employer representatives about the flaws of HB 2409, which would hike penalties (with a self-insurance penalty multiplier), insert a new insurance bad faith cause of action into workers’ comp, and require registration of self-insured claims handlers. Testimony ran 11-3 against the bill. It was scheduled for a committee vote on Thursday, but was pulled from the calendar. We continue to work diligently against this bad legislation. Special thanks to Bernie Pratt, Kelly Early (ESD 113), and John Chriswell (Hoffman Structures) who came to Olympia to testify against the bill. If you’d like to watch the hearing, click here, and scrub to about 17 minutes in.  

Also Tuesday, the Senate Financial Institutions Committee held a work session on the issue of captive insurers, which has a number of self-insured employers involved. The panel heard from the Office of Insurance Commissioner on their plans to tax nationwide captive payments, including for workers’ compensation, as well as from representatives from Starbucks, Alaska Airlines, and Microsoft as to how captives are used and an alternative and more preferable way of recognizing them in law. If this issue interests you, click here to watch the work session. The OIC and employer-side bills on captives will be up for public hearing in the Senate committee next Tuesday.

Looking ahead to next week

In addition to hearings coming next week and noted above, our major activity will be Tuesday morning in the Senate Labor Committee, where the panel will be hearing four workers’ comp bills – the extremely controversial SB 6440, which imposes numerous restrictions on the time, place, manner, scheduling, use, conduct, and purpose of Independent Medical Examinations; the aforementioned SB 6552 which eliminates the 3-day waiting period for time loss; and two WSIA-requested bills, SB 6372 which expands access to the structured settlement program and SB 6373 which gives self-insurers allowance order authority, both bills simply implementing the recommendations of recent third party studies of the workers’ comp system.