Legal

Washington State Lawmakers OK Workers’ Comp Reforms

By Staff Report

May. 25, 2011

Washington state legislators approved a workers’ compensation reform bill that its backers say will save the state’s disability system $1.1 billion over the next four years.

The legislation passed the Washington state House on a 69-26 vote and the Senate on a 35-12 vote on May 23, wrapping a three-week effort to revamp the state’s system. Gov. Christine Gregoire, who backed the workers’ compensation reform effort, is expected to sign the bill into law.

“Among several provisions, the agreement reached today [May 23] promotes getting workers back on the job faster, freezes cost of living allowances to ensure parity with others and provides the option of a structured claims settlement,”Gregoire said in a written statement.

The bill also would help Washington avoid a double-digit workers’ compensation rate increase, which backers say will help stimulate the state’s job market.

“Although we hoped for stronger reforms, I think [this bill] will begin to fix our broken workers’ compensation system, avoid double-digit rate increases and create an economic climate that gives employers the certainty they need to create jobs,” House Republican leader Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said in a written statement.

A spokeswoman for the Washington State Labor & Industries Department, which provides workers’ compensation insurance for more than 168,000 employers and 2.5 million workers, said the agency still was examining the legislation but overall is “excited about the changes” that will give it “the tools to reduce costs for employers.”

The Olympia-based Association of Washington Business also lauded the legislation but said more work remains to be done.

“Washington state’s workers’ compensation system cannot continue indefinitely in its current state, even with the changes reflected in this agreement,” association president Don Brunell said in a written statement. “That is a conversation that will need to continue after the gavel falls this spring.”  

Filed by Jeff Casale of Business Insurance, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.

 

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