Hewitt: Workers' comp bills a step forward

The Walla Walla senator says the proposals would help ensure the system's solvency.

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Workers’ comp bills

The five bills due for a hearing today before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee:

SB 5124 — Simplifying the calculation of workers’ compensation benefits

SB 5125 — Clarifying “occupational disease” claims

SB 5126 — All economic and non-economic damages, except loss of consortium, are subject to the third-party recovery statutes

SB 5127 — Expanding structured workers’ comp settlements

SB 5128 — Clarifying structured settlements

OLYMPIA — Five bills aimed at improving Washington’s workers’ compensation system will receive a public hearing today in the state Senate.

The bills will come before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, on which Sen. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, serves. The measures were introduced by Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, and co-sponsored by Hewitt.

In a release, Hewitt said the legislation is an example that a new coalition of Republican and Democratic Party members in the state Senate is working.

Legislation adopted in 2011 helped improve the solvency of Washington’s workers’ compensation system, but further action is needed, Hewitt said. The system is operated by the state and is the only source of industrial insurance for employers and workers.

A recent study by the Department of Labor and Industries found the workers’ compensation reserve account is severely underfunded, according to the release. To bring the account to full solvency would require up to $3.1 billion, which equates to annual rate increases of 19 percent sustained over 10 years.

“The centerpiece of the industrial-insurance reforms passed in 2011 allowed structured settlements for workers over the age of 55,” Hewitt continued. “That change is projected to save the system a billion and a half dollars over the next four years. It’s easy to see why we’d want to expand the option to all workers.

“To put it simply, Washington’s workers’ compensation system is broken. Our rates are the highest in the nation and we return fewer workers to the job than any state.” Hewitt said. “These bills represent some responsible steps we can take to improve the system while still protecting injured workers.”

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