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January 23, 2013 at 6:10 AM

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State Senate moves on workers' compensation

Four bills reforming Washington’s industrial insurance program are scheduled for hearing 1:30 Wednesday at the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor in Senate Hearing Room 2 of the Cherberg Building in Olympia.

All four bills aim to shave off costs from the state’s system, thereby holding down the future cost of creating jobs. The system, cautiously reformed two years ago in order to save money, is still one of the nation’s most generous to injured workers. It is also one of the more expensive to employers, who argue that the cost makes business expansion and job creation more difficult.

The prime sponsor of the bills is Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake. The bills are:

Senate Bill 5124. This changes the law’s definition of wages, which is part of the formula to determine an injured worker’s benefits. The proposal would remove the value of medical, dental and vision benefits from the calculation, and would count overtime pay only for workers who had been on the job for a year. It would also lower maximum benefits.

Senate Bill 5126. This reverses a Washington Supreme Court ruling in 2010 (Tobin v. Dept. of Labor and Industries) that restricted the state’s ability to collect from a third party that caused a worker injury.

Senate Bill 5127. The law now limits cash settlements to workers 55 and over (50 and over in 2016). The age restriction would be ended, making Washington's system similar in that respect to Oregon's. It would also allow a worker represented by a lawyer to skip mandatory hearing at the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, on the grounds that a worker with his own lawyer can be trusted to know what he is doing.

Senate Bill 5128. This bill would allow medical benefits to be rolled into a cash settlement along with income replacement. Medical benefits cannot be cashed out now even if the worker volunteers to do it.

These bills would make the state more competitive for job-creating investment, though in some cases (SB 5124, particularly) at the expense of beneficiaries. This is the sort of legislation much less likely to have had a hearing if the Senate had remained under control of labor-backed Democrats. Expect business interests to support these bills and organized labor to oppose them.

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Fantastic. Let's make WA State better for businesses/jobs and worse for immoral people... MORE

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