On Monday, the Washington State House and Senate passed labor-opposed workers’ compensation legislation, without amendment, that Gov. Chris Gregoire calls “some of the largest reforms in the system’s 100-year history.” The bill — which had no public hearing and no fiscal note explaining its costs — was made public for the first time at about noon, passed the House 69-26 in the afternoon, and passed the Senate 35-12 in the evening. (See roll calls below.)
EHB 2123 was the product of closed-door negotiations between Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislative leaders of both parties, who held a news conference Sunday night announcing the deal, which passed both houses within 24 hours. It will make Washington the first state in the country that offers what Gregoire calls “structured settlements” to injured workers 55 years and older (lowered to 50 by 2016), which are essentially the lump-sum buyouts opposed by labor but spread over periodic payments. Next year alone, the state anticipates injured workers will get settlements that are $335 million less than they would otherwise receive, and a total of $545 million less over 2012-15.
“The passage of EHB 2123 yesterday without public hearing, without public debate was shameful,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council. “I am astounded by the ability of a Democratic legislature to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our unique workers’ compensation system, only to begin its second 100 years by dismantling that which makes it unique. You can re-label compromise-and-release settlements as ‘structured settlements’ and you can deceive yourself into believing that workers have real protections in this bill, but you cannot avoid the fact that more than a half billion dollars in benefits will be taken from injured workers from this section of the bill alone.”
EHB 2123 also freezes injured workers’ cost-of-living adjustments for one year, reducing benefits by an estimated $31 million in 2012 and $124 million in 2012-15; deducts prior disability awards from pension awards and eliminates interest payments of permanent partial disability awards, which cuts benefits by $99 million in 2012 and $133 million over 2012-15; and makes several other changes.
Here is the House roll-call vote on EHB 2123, which was sponsored by Rep. Tami Green (D-Tacoma). Democrats are listed in bold.
VOTING YES: Representatives Ahern, Alexander, Anderson, Angel, Armstrong, Asay, Bailey, Blake, Buys, Carlyle, Chandler, Chopp, Clibborn, Cody, Condotta, Crouse, Dahlquist, Dammeier, Darneille, DeBolt, Dunshee, Eddy, Fagan, Finn, Frockt, Green, Haigh, Haler, Hargrove, Hinkle, Hope, Hunter, Hurst, Jinkins, Johnson, Kagi, Kelley, Klippert, Kretz, Kristiansen, Maxwell, McCoy, Moeller, Morris, Nealey, Orcutt, Overstreet, Parker, Pearson, Pedersen, Rivers, Rodne, Rolfes, Ross, Seaquist, Shea, Schmick, Short, Smith, Springer, Sullivan, Takko, Taylor, Tharinger, Van De Wege, Walsh, Warnick, Wilcox, and Zeiger.
VOTING NO: Representatives Billig, Dickerson, Fitzgibbon, Goodman, Harris, Hasegawa, Hudgins, Hunt, Kenney, Kirby, Ladenburg, Liias, Lytton, Miloscia, Moscoso, Ormsby, Orwall, Probst, Reykdal, Roberts, Ryu, Santos, Sells, Stanford, Upthegrove, and Wylie.
EXCUSED: Representatives Appleton, McCune, and Pettigrew.
Here is the Senate roll call:
VOTING YES: Senators Baumgartner, Baxter, Becker, Brown, Carrell, Delvin, Eide, Ericksen, Fain, Hargrove, Hatfield, Haugen, Hewitt, Hill, Hobbs, Holmquist Newbry, Honeyford, Kastama, Kilmer, King, Kohl-Welles, Litzow, Morton, Parlette, Pflug, Pridemore, Regala, Roach, Rockefeller, Schoesler, Sheldon, Stevens, Swecker, Tom, and Zarelli
VOTING NAY: Senators Benton, Chase, Conway, Fraser, Harper, Keiser, Kline, McAuliffe, Murray, Nelson, Ranker, and White
EXCUSED: Senators Prentice and Shin.
Advocates on both sides of the issue — from The Stand to the right-wing Washington Policy Center — expressed concerns about the haste of EHB 2123′s passage, the lack of public hearings, and the likelihood for confusion and drafting error. In the hours after the bill was publicly released at noon Monday, the Washington State Labor Council issued an Action Alert and legislators received about 1,500 emails in opposition to the proposal. But in the end, the vote had been decided long before the bill even existed. EHB 2123 now heads to the governor’s desk, where she is expected to sign it into law.
EHB 2123 now heads to the governor’s desk, where she is expected to sign it into law.
Some legislators celebrated with business lobbyists after Tuesday’s vote.
Said Johnson: “As Boeing and business lobbyists celebrated with glasses of wine after the House vote, and House members of both parties joined them in the celebration, it reminded many of us in labor of the after-midnight gutting of our unemployment insurance system and attacks on workers’ compensation in 2003. It is almost as if the defeat of Initiative 1082 (to privatize the workers’ compensation system) never happened.”
The special 30-day overtime session is scheduled to end Wednesday.
“There are still several critical working-family issues on the table in Olympia,” Johnson added, listing efforts to privatize more state services without giving state employees a chance to compete for their own jobs, efforts to cut job-creating infrastructure projects by reducing the debt limit, and efforts to extend funding for convention center improvements. “The 2011 legacy for our Democratic-controlled state government is still a work in progress, but after what legislative leaders just did to our workers’ compensation system, all working people should be downright alarmed about the amount of damage that could be done in Olympia in the next 48 hours.”
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