House rejects debate on reforming injured workers’ fund
The House of Representatives tonight rejected a motion to vote on a bill to create more options in the state workers' compensation fund.
Assistant Minority Floor Leader Charles Ross requested a motion on the House floor to “pull” House Bill 3149 to the floor calendar, bypassing committee action. Such motions are typically made when urgent action is required on legislation.
Ross says the majority indicated they were not interested in a public hearing on the proposal and it was important to have a method for dialogue on the important economic issue.
Workers' compensation is a program that employers and employees pay into for employees who are injured and out of work due to workplace injuries. Washington is one of only four states in the nation with a public monopoly on injured workers' compensation programs.
House Bill 3149, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, would create a “three-way” workers' compensation system, aimed at maintaining the current system at the Department of Labor and Industries, introducing a privatized system, and allowing self-insurance. All would be regulated under the state insurance commissioner and follow the same requirements for providing compensation to workers injured on the job. Employees would see no change in benefits with the three options, but would no longer pay into the program.
Chandler said those in Olympia have had no interest in real reform to the system, but have continued to raise rates and reject any reviews into the efficiency of the program.
Last summer, Labor and Industries originally sought a 15-20 percent increase in contribution rates for employers. Final premiums will increase 7.6 percent for employers this year. Though claims have dropped 52 percent in the last 20 years, administration costs increased 82 percent in the last 10 years.
Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag has reported the workers' compensation fund could be completely depleted within two years. A report by Labor and Industries states the agency would have had to increase rates 33 percent to break even, which would have been a half-billion dollar increase on employers.
Yakima-area House Republicans said tonight's vote was a missed opportunity, and pointed to the Made in Washington plan they support to put Washington back to work.
“This is just another example of the inaction of the Legislature to do something about the climate in this state that is hindering job growth and the success of employers,” said Ross, R-Naches. “Employers from around the state have asked for a more efficient system to collect and distribute payments for injured workers, and special interests have put down a roadblock on desperately needed changes to a very broken system.”
“Workers' compensation is an important benefit for employees who cannot work due to an injury, and employers expect their dollars to be used to directly help those that need it,” said Chandler. “The average employee in the current workers' compensation system is out of work 270 days, compared with Oregon's average of just 70 days. Despite the fact that employers have made workplaces safer, they are being penalized. It's disappointing we could not have this debate.”
“Reforming workers' compensation is a significant way to lower costs for employers so they can protect existing jobs and create new ones. The citizens of our state deserve more than lip service when it comes to providing jobs. They want results,” said Rep. Norm Johnson, R-Yakima. “This bill could have delivered, but unfortunately, some in Olympia believe protecting the monopoly of state government is more important than private-sector jobs.”
“I've spoken to business owners throughout Central Washington, and the common theme is the need to reform unemployment insurance and workers' compensation,” said Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee. “We had an opportunity tonight to start down a path to address these job-killing issues, but unfortunately, our colleagues in the majority don't seem to be interested in addressing these issues. We have introduced a comprehensive reform package which addresses most of the issues impacting job creation and growth. Of the 20 bills which comprise our 'Made in Washington' plan, only one has received a hearing.”
###Washington State House Republican Communications