January 26th 2018 Legislative Update

Today marks the end of the third week of the Legislative Session. So far, work has focused on bills being heard in committees and voted out of committees for further consideration, along with the occasional floor vote on a "hot topic" bill. 

The Legislature has a series of internal deadlines for bills to keep moving, and the first one comes next Friday February 2nd, where all non-fiscal bills are to be voted out of their committee in order to be considered eligible for further consideration.

These were the major developments this week in workers' compensation:

On Monday, the House Labor & Workforce Development Committee appears to have shelved HB 2591, which would have required a blanket replacement of all workers' comp hearing aids at least once every five years. Instead, following comments by WSIA and the Department, committee members wrote a letter to the Department requesting that it engage in rulemaking to determine when it is necessary to replace rather than repair a hearing aid.

The Senate Labor & Commerce Committee, meanwhile, heard public testimony on SB 6226, which requires electronic or 10-day delivery of medical records for IMEs and telemedicine in IMEs, as well as on SB 6448, broadening the category of mental health providers that could treat injured workers, and SB 6270 which would eliminate the social security offset for workers already receiving benefits when injured. WSIA presented concerns on 6226 and opposition to 6448, and signed in opposed to 6270.

Finally, the House Appropriations Committee heard testimony on HB 2762, which would separate the State Fund and self-insured pension calculations, allowing the Department to discount the two pension liabilities according to different assumptions. WSIA testified in support of the bill, as it maintains the status quo for self-insureds while allowing the State Fund to move more conservatively on the discounting of its liabilities without financially impacting our community.

On Tuesday, the House Labor Committee heard testimony on HB 2697, which would reduce workers' comp indemnity payments by a portion of an injured workers' level of intoxication, if the injury was caused by drug or alcohol use. The Department opposed the bill, stating that it introduced a level of fault into a no-fault system. It's unlikely the bill is going to have further consideration.

On Wednesday, the Senate Labor Committee voted out of committee SB 6213 and 6214, which respectively create a PTSD-based occupational disease presumption for police and fire, and create new cancer, cardio-respiratory, and infectious disease presumptions for both police and fire. WSIA has been attempting to defeat or narrow these proposals, but they have a considerable push behind them this session.

Finally, on Thursday evening the Senate passed an amended version of HB 1723, the Hanford workers' occupational disease presumption bill, on a bipartisan vote of 35-14. The matter now goes back to the House, which can finalize passage of the bill if it concurs in the Senate amendment. WSIA offered several amendments to limit the scope of this presumption, but could not overcome the tide of headline-seeking and emotional thinking pushing this bill through the process this year.

Looking ahead to next week:

The Senate Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday will take up SB 6393, the companion bill to the pension discount rate bill heard this week in the House. 

The Senate Labor Committee will hear on Wednesday SB 6232, the companion bill to the hearing aid bill already disposed of by the House. It's presumed that the Senate will follow the House approach, which is to refer the matter to Labor & Industries rulemaking.

At some point in the week, the committee is likely to vote out at least the measure on IMEs, electronic records, and telemedicine. WSIA is attempting to get an amendment placed to bring some flexibility to the bill sponsor's approach. 

The House Labor Committee appears to be done with workers' comp for the year, other than it is expected that HB 2633, the House version of the police and fire presumptions for cancers and infections, will be voted out by the Friday deadline.

Next week's report will summarize what is still alive at the first major deadline. 

Spoiler Alert: It's pretty much all adverse, with the exception of the pension discount bill, and it'll pretty much all still be alive by virtue of getting voted out of committee.

Click below to download our latest bill tracking sheet.