January 31, 2020 Legislative Update

Quite a bit of activity took place this week on workers’ compensation issues we’ve been following. Next Friday is the cutoff for these bills to be voted out of committee to stay alive in the process.

Here’s a quick rundown:

IME overhaul: SB 6440, a top-to-bottom overhaul of the IME statute to suit claimant lawyers, was heard in the Senate Labor Committee on Tuesday morning. There was significant industry opposition at the hearing. The bill is likely to be amended down to an interim task force to discuss and make recommendations, and be voted out of committee in that form. 

3-Day Waiting Period: SB 6552, which would eliminate the three day waiting period on time loss benefits, was also heard Tuesday morning. This solution-in-search-of-a-problem also received substantial opposition. It is likely to be amended to retain the 3-day waiting period but reduce the 14-day retroactive period down to 7 days. We continue to oppose this, and are awaiting a fiscal analysis from L&I.

Penalties/Bad Faith: HB 2409, which hikes penalties, imposes a multiplier on SI delay/deny benefits, imposes a new duty of good faith and fair dealing in claims handling, and calls for registration of all individuals handling SI claims, was heard in the House Labor committee last week, and received no action this week. However, we have been told the prime sponsor, Christine Kilduff, D-University Place, is working on an amendment and the bill is scheduled for a committee vote next Thursday, February 6th on his potential amendment.

Structured Settlements: SB 6372, which eliminates the age restriction on structured settlements and would allow for the settlement of contested claims, received a hearing this past Tuesday morning in the Senate, but is not scheduled for further action this session.

SI Allowance Orders: SB 6373, which would have SI employers issue allowance orders on claims, was also heard in committee Tuesday. Long-standing battle lines remain drawn over this tiny, modest SI authority proposal. Trial lawyers remain committed to the proposition that if able to issue binding orders allowing claims, self-insurers will use the allowance to limit or deny conditions. Language addressing that concern has been developed for an amendment, but it remains to be seen how much enthusiasm remains for the bill.

911 Operators PTSD: HB 2758, which would allow a 911 emergency dispatch operator to state an occupational disease claim for PTSD, was heard Monday in the House committee and is set for a committee vote next Tuesday, 02/04. While we understand where this bill is coming from and are glad it merely (!) extends coverage but not presumption, it’s still a costly proposal an an exercise in “where do you draw the line” once you start granting these occupational exemptions.  

I want to thank everyone who has replied with comments and positions, tech support and guidance, who has come down to Olympia to testify in hearings, and otherwise has engaged this session. At about 1/3 of the way through this 60-day session, we still have considerable work ahead of us to achieve reasonable outcomes for WSIA members on these legislative issues.