Members of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus were able to push through three controversial workers’ compensation bills on the Senate floor today.
Two of the bills, SB5112 and SB5128, passed on 25-24 votes along party lines. The bills, sponsored by Janea Holmquist Newbry (R-Moses Lake), change compensation and give injured workers an incentive to take a lump sum settlement in lieu of traditional state pensions.
Supporters in the Republican-controlled majority say the legislation will save the state money and protect employers while giving workers more choices.
The bills were opposed by labor unions, including the Washington State Labor Council.
Before the vote, Rep. Steve Conway (D-Tacoma) argued the legislation would eventually shift the financial burden from employers to state taxpayers.
“In the long term if their condition worsens and they have no time loss benefits in the future and they have no pension in the future, what happens? These folks become the responsibility of the state tax payers,” he said.
Holmquist Newbry said the changes to the system are necessary if the state is going to stop escalating rate increases on employers.
“We need to take this step to bring true sustainability to our workers’ comp system, the very system that our injured workers and their families depend on,” she said.
A vote on the bills was delayed after Senate Democrats argued that the legislation was rushed through Senate’s Commerce and Labor Committee.
The third bill, SB 5127, also dealt with settlements for injured workers. It passed with a vote of 30-19.
The votes are the first of many that are expected to test the new power structure in the Senate after two Democrats – Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Medina) and Sen. Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) – joined 23 Republicans to form a new majority caucus.