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WA Lege Day 22: Workers comp fight expected

OLYMPIA — The Senate is expected to debate bills that would make changes in the state's workers compensation system today. 

Changes in workers comp? you may ask. Didn't they strike a deal on that back in 2011?

Yes. But one of the changes they made, which was to allow woluntary structured settlements for injured workers aged 55 and older, is the subject of one of the bills, and Senate Republicans want to expand it to cover all workers. Labor-backed Democrats are opposed to that, arguing the younger the worker the greater the likelihood  he or she could be coerced into a bad settlement.

Both business and labor will be watching this first big test of the majority coalition in the Senate. Whatever passes there still faces an uphill fight in the House.

Also on the agenda today are committee sessions on repealing the family and medical leave act, a sales tax holiday for back to school clothes and supplies, training wages, and a request for the feds to reclassify marijuana.

A full schedule for committee hearings can be found inside the blog.

Unemployment tax rates to drop, workers comp rates steady

OLYMPIA — Most Washington businesses will see lower unemployment taxes and many will have no increase in their workers compensation rates in 2012.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, announcing the new rates for next year, said they represent “real reform” through work with the Legislature earlier this years, rather than the calls for reform some legislators now say are needed before the state considers a tax increase.

“I've been doing reform long before anybody used it as a political football like they are today,” Gregoire said.

To learn more about the rates announced this morning, see our Spin Control blog.

Spec Sess Day 4: Workers comp, unemployment rates, budgets

OLYMPIA — The new rates for unemployment insurance and workers compensation taxes will be announced this morning in a press conference by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The gov has been touting reforms earlier this year to both systems as proof that her administration and the Legislature are serious about government reform. The proof in this case may be in how much, or whether, the rates change.

In the Legislature, both the House and Senate Ways and Means committees have budget hearings this afternoon. So do both chambers' Transportation committees.

Floor action? Likely none in the Senate, which is scheduled only for a pro forma session at noon. Possibility of something in the House, which convened at 10 a.m. and went into caucus. Prospects for a proposed bailout of the Wenatchee Public Facilities District, however, have to be rated as dismal to non-existant at the start of the day. Today is the deadline, and neither chamber has moved a bill.

Workers comp bill passes House 69-26

OLYMPIA — Major changes to the state's workers compensation system passed the House Monday on a 69-26 vote.

Most proposed amendments were ruled out of order by Speaker Frank Chopp, and debate centered around whether injured workers would be helped or hurt by a change that would allow them to take "structured settlements" rather than take part in state retraining programs and go on a pension program.

Rep. Chris Reykdahl, D-Tumwater, said the changes were part of a "relentless pursuit to take on workers". Businesses will be helped at the expense of workers, he said.

Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, insisted it was a "creative and somewhat experimental" change to the state's century-old system designed to protect injured workers. "If I were an injured worker, I would want this option. If there are problems, I'll be the first to come back and fix them."

Rep. .Tami Green, D-Lakewood, acknowledged the plan was controversial, but should be given a chance to work. "I guess I would ask us to all calm down a lilttle bit," Green said in opening the debate. "If there are problemls, we can come back and fix them."

Spec Sess Day 27: A deal on workers comp

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. . .

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

WA Lege Day 102: Medical marijuana, workers comp

OLYMPIA — The Legislature is moving toward its temporary adjournment today, trying to pass as many bills as possible on which both chambers agree.

And the House may have a bit of fireworks over a bill on which there isn't universal agreement, SB 5566, which would allow for voluntary settlements on workers compensation claims, a process known as compromise and release. The bill has passed the Senate and has Gov. Chris Gregoire's support, but House Democratic leadership does not support the system and has not allowed a vote on it. House Republicans and some moderate Democrats may try to push it to the floor this afternoon.

Among bills on the Senate's plate is the latest version of the medical marijuana bill which passed the House in an amended version earlier this month.

In other back-and-forth action, the House refused to agree to Senate amendments to HB 1267, a bill on domestic partner parent laws and surrogacy, and asked for a conference committee. The Senate voted this morning to strip out the provisions on surrogacy, and send it back to the House on a 27-21 vote.

"I have a problem with the Legislature changing the meaning of mother and father," said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who voted no.

That wasn't what the bill did, replied Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley. "The law needs to recognize we have non-traditional families."