Finally, Washington Legislature enacts workers' compensation reform
The Washington Legislature's hard-won compromise on workers' compensation reform saves the system from insolvency. Credit goes to moderate Democrats who held their ground and Gov. Chris Gregoire who kept pushing.
THE Legislature's hard-won compromise on workers' compensation reform yielded a solid start to restoring sustainability to Washington's system for injured workers. It also broke the logjam on the state budget, avoiding a second special session.
More reform of industrial insurance needs to be done. The option for an injured worker to take a cash settlement for an economic loss (but not a medical claim) is more useful the younger the worker. A younger worker has more time, strength and interest to stay in the world of work rather than being pensioned off.
For reasons that make no sense to us, the compromise limits the cash-out option to workers older than 50. The bill also spreads out larger cash settlements over several years, making it more difficult to buy expensive tools or start a business. Still, it is a new option. Workers will take it, and people will see the results.
For employers, the reforms will save several hundred million dollars a year. This will help them create jobs and power the economic recovery.
Winning these reforms occasioned a fight with the trial lawyers and organized labor. This was a natural for the Republicans, who oppose those groups anyway, but it was a difficult choice for Gov. Chris Gregoire. Our Democratic governor deserves credit for seeing the necessity for reform, picking the fight with two of her party's core constituencies, pushing this issue through the whole session, and brokering the deal at the end.
Credit also goes to a group of Democratic legislators — the "roadkill caucus," because they are on the centerline — who dared to break with the left side of their party. The "roadkillers" include, in the Senate, Steve Hobbs, Brian Hatfield, Jim Kastama, Derek Kilmer and Rodney Tom; and in the House, Christopher Hurst, Deb Eddy, Brian Blake, Fred Finn, Troy Kelley, Larry Seaquist, Judy Clibborn and Dean Takko.
The result was a solid gain — and relief at the end of a long and contentious session.