WSIA Week 5 Legislative Report (2017)

Feb. 10, 2017

The fifth week of Washington’s 2017 legislative session wraps up today – here’s a quick run-down of new legislative items:

 Hearings of note:

The major issue in public hearings this week was presumptive occupational disease. Yesterday, the House Labor & Workplace Standards Committee held a hearing on House Bills 1655 and 1723. The former would allow stress-related mental conditions as occupational diseases specifically for law enforcement and fire fighter personnel, and would create a presumption for these workers that PTSD in particular is an occupational disease. The latter would create a broad presumption of occupational disease for a vast number of workers for contractors and subcontractors of the US Dept. of Energy at the Hanford nuclear site, covering a large number of conditions. The hearing for the Hanford bill in particular was tense and emotional; the Tri-City Herald has a fair write-up of the issue and some of the issues the bill raises.  

The Senate, meanwhile, heard SB 5477, which expands the existing presumption of occupational disease for firefighters by adding new conditions, adding EMTs and fire investigators to the coverage, and creating new presumptive conditions for police officers. WSIA was joined by the Association of Washington Cities and Washington State Association of Counties in expressing opposition to the police/firefighter bills, and by the Association of Washington Business in pointing out problems with the Hanford bill.

New bills:

The only major bill to be introduced since last week’s update is the Department of Labor & Industries’ request bill to conform state WISHA penalty maximums and minimums to recent federal OSHA levels. L&I contends this bill is necessary to stay in conformity with OSHA and thereby maintain Washington’s state program designation for workplace safety regulation. The employer community has generally withheld immediate support from the proposal, expressing skepticism that federal OSHA would act quickly to strip Washington’s state program, expressing some agnosticism about whether that would be a bad thing, and hoping to use the issue to stimulate a discussion over what is widely viewed as a problematic culture of investigation and compliance (versus consultation) at the L&I DOSH program.

The Senate version of the bill (SB 5743) was heard in committee yesterday, while the House version (HB 1953) is scheduled for hearing and a committee vote next week. If anything, the House version will be likely to move, and it will be interesting to see where the discussion goes from there.

Employer coalition bill:

We’ve neared the end of signature-gathering among legislative sponsors for the bill WSIA and other coalition partners are supporting for L&I reform, and anticipate a bill number early next week, and will be pushing for a vote in committee next week as well. Look out for possible action alerts to the WSIA membership encouraging folks to contact their legislators in support of the measure.

Next Friday 02/17/17 is the deadline for non-fiscal bills like these to receive a vote out of committee in order to be considered in the ordinary course still “alive” in the process.