Spin Control

Spec Sess Day 27: A deal on workers comp

OLYMPIA -- Gov. Chris Gregoire announces details of a proposed agreement on workers compensation system changes at a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)
OLYMPIA -- Gov. Chris Gregoire announces details of a proposed agreement on workers compensation system changes at a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt. (Jim Camden/The Spokesman-Review)

Gov. Chris Gregoire announces proposed changes to the Workers Compensation system as Sens. Lisa Brown and Mike Hewitt look on.

OLYMPIA – An agreement on offering settlements to injured workers could remove one of the main obstacles to the Legislature passing a budget for the next two years.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and the leaders of both parties in both chambers said Sunday evening they had hammered out a deal on a major overhaul of the state’s workers compensation system that will save $500 million in 2012 and $1.1 billion through 2015.
Key to the agreement was a plan to offer “structured settlements” to seriously injured workers aged 55 and over. Those workers would be able to negotiate settlements to be paid over time through a formula tied to average state wages; in exchange, they would forego pensions and state-funded retraining programs now available under the system.
The age limit would be dropped to 53 in 2015 and 50 in 2016.
“It’s not an annuity,” Gregoire stressed. . .

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OLYMPIA – An agreement on offering settlements to injured workers could remove one of the main obstacles to the Legislature passing a budget for the next two years.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and the leaders of both parties in both chambers said Sunday evening they had hammered out a deal on a major overhaul of the state’s workers compensation system that will save $500 million in 2012 and $1.1 billion through 2015.
Key to the agreement was a plan to offer “structured settlements” to seriously injured workers aged 55 and over. Those workers would be able to negotiate settlements to be paid over time through a formula tied to average state wages; in exchange, they would forego pensions and state-funded retraining programs now available under the system.
The age limit would be dropped to 53 in 2015 and 50 in 2016.
“It’s not an annuity,” Gregoire stressed. Injured workers will not be able to sell their settlement to someone else for a lump sum payment; companies who try to coerce an injured worker into accepting a settlement would face penalties.
Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, called it the largest reform to the 100-year-old workers compensation system in history that maintains protections for workers.
“This is a fair deal for everyone involved,” said House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle.
Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry of Moses Lake, who was a leader for Senate Republicans in negotiations, called it a “baby step towards real reform” and said she wished it went farther in bringing costs down.
The bill also contains a one-year freeze on cost-of-living adjustments on pensions and changes to the way pensions are calculated for workers who previously received disability awards. The changes would avoid double-digit rate hikes to employers that are expected to be ordered later this year.
Gregoire called it one of the most “contentious, complex and difficult issues” of the session that kept leaders at the bargaining table for hours. “The last three days were the most intense of my life,” Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said.
Chopp and other House Democrats had resisted lump sum payments that were part of earlier proposals. But a majority of members of both parties, in both chambers, are expected to vote for the proposal, which could come to a vote in the House early Monday and a Senate vote that evening. Details of a budget agreement also could be announced Monday.
Organized labor opposes settlements and believes that businesses will still find ways to pressure workers into accepting amounts less than they would receive under the state’s current system. The state’s voters rejected changes to the workers compensation system last year, union leaders said.
The Association of Washington Business called the agreement good news for businesses facing rate increases, but saw it as only a partial solution. “Voluntary settlements will provide some systemic relief, but this agreement cannot be the last step in the journey toward reform,” Don Brunell, association president, said in a prepared statement.
 




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