As the 2013 legislative regular session adjourned without an agreement on the state’s operating budget and several key reform bills, Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry, the chair of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, called on legislators to make passage of workers’ compensation reform a top priority of the special session.
“Since we came together and formed the Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate, we promised to dedicate ourselves to creating and preserving jobs, building a world-class education system, and passing a sustainable budget,” said Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake. “That is why there are simply not 25 votes in the Senate to support general tax increases this year. It is bad policy to raise taxes on employers and families, if we hope to see our economy grow and create jobs.
“For the same reason, it is also vital that the Legislature reach agreement on reforms to the state’s costly workers’ compensation system. Failure to do so would essentially result in another 1.1 billion dollar tax hit on employers, at time when they are already facing an increase in their federal tax burden.”
In 2011, Holmquist Newbry helped broker a deal providing an alternative claims-resolution process for some injured workers, which helped the system avoid major rate increases for employers and workers. An age restriction was included in that agreement prohibiting certain injured workers from accepting, or even pursuing, a settlement agreement.
Senate Bill 5127, which passed the Senate with a bipartisan 30-19 vote but failed to even receive a hearing in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, would reduce the age restriction for settlement proposals to 40 years of age. Notwithstanding the age restriction, the state realized savings from the 2011 reforms. This bill does not impact the payment of medical bills resulting from the injury—it is only intended to allow structured settlements on compensation.
“Why should we limit the choices and opportunities of workers? Without this bill we are trapping employees at a much lower earning capacity and requiring that they don’t work,” Holmquist Newbry said. “Under this bill, with the option of a settlement expanded, more workers will have the ability to re-enter the workplace on their own terms.”
Holmquist Newbry also questioned the governor’s decision to delay the start of the special session, saying that it would increase uncertainty and potentially cost jobs.
“It is crucial to complete our work in timely manner because there are real-world impacts to any further delay,” said Holmquist Newbry. “There are small-business owners who are trying to determine if they can afford to keep their doors open or not. Others are trying to determine if they can hire new employees or if they’ll be forced to let some go.
“The cost of delaying action is simply too high. We must get our job done, get it done soon and get it done right.”
On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its quarterly update of unemployment rates by state over the past year. These rates include all six measures the BLS uses. U-6 is the broadest measure, which includes “discouraged” workers that are no longer actively seeking work. By the U-6 measure, Washington ranked 5th highest in the country in unemployment over the last 12 months.
Majority Coalition Priority Jobs Bills for the Special Session
• 5718 Single Licensing Portal (Brown) (47-0)
• 5158 Relying on written L&I wage guidance (Braun) (25-24)
• 5656 Business Licensing Systems (Braun) (33-16)
• 5688 Study to reduce B&O classifications (Braun) (35-14)
• 5697 Frequency local sales tax changes (Braun) (36-11)
• 5679 Agency rule review process (Brown) (49-0)
• 5112 Workers’ Comp – Retro Rating (Holmquist) (25-24)
• 5127 Workers’ Comp – Zimmerman Fix/Age 40 (Holmquist) (30-19)
• 5128 Workers’ Comp – Voluntary Sett. (Holmquist) (25-24)
• 5296 MTCA Reform (Ericksen) (25-23)
• 5903 Family Leave Suspension—2 year sunset (Braun) (27-21)
• 5726 Geographic Sick Leave (Braun) (29-20)