In dramatic contrast to their promises of collaboration and bipartisanship, Republicans rushed five far-reaching worker compensation bills through the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee today, after limiting questions and testimony from Democrats and from the middle-class workers the worker comp system was created to protect in hearings last week.
“The new majority gave five extremely complex bills that make sweeping changes less time than you’d normally give a single bill of comparable complexity,” said Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, the committee’s ranking Democratic member. “When we requested the opportunity to ask about the likely impacts of the bills on the state Department of Labor & Industries, which administers the system, all we got was the bum’s rush.”
Republicans said their bills would create jobs but provided no evidence to back up the claim, Democrats on the committee said.
“These bills don’t create jobs, they just make it harder for middle-class workers to stay on the job,” Conway said. “Instead of helping the system get injured workers healthy, these bills inhibit their being able to regain their health and get back to work.”
Senate bills 5112, 5124, 5126, 5127 and 5128 would make numerous changes to a state worker compensation system that is still in the process incorporating reforms that were begun in 2012. Among other things, the bills:
* allow employers to influence what criteria is used to determine the extent of a worker’s injury and fitness to return to work;
* open to younger workers an option that was created to enable older workers to retire rather than undergo difficult rehab or costly retraining for new career fields; and
* override a state court ruling reaffirming that the worker compensation system’s primary mission is to protect injured workers.
“The worker comp system was created to protect injured middle-class workers, but the focus of these bills is all about reducing business costs at the risk of working people,” Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said. “The only savings in the system come from workers receiving fewer benefits. Using structured settlements to settle claims of younger workers will undercut protections to people who cannot foresee the full long-term consequences of their injuries.”
“I came to the Senate to continue to fight for working families, and it looks like I got here just in time,” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill, a freshman in the Senate after eight years in the House. “These bills would roll back essential protections that middle-class workers and their families rely on for their well-being, their livelihoods and their ability to provide security for their families. Our middle class has been the envy of the world, but it won’t stay that way if we keep cutting costs at the expense of the middle class.”