The state workers’ compensation reform, Senate Bill 5127, was passed by the Senate 30-19 and hung up in the House. It needs to pass in this session.
The Legislature passed a workers’ compensation bill in 2011. The law allows certain disabled workers to choose a payout of cash rather than a lifetime disability pension.
Cash settlements save money for the disability fund, lessen tax increases on employers and make Washington a more attractive state in which to invest.
These benefits have come much more slowly than expected. One reason is that the law limited cash-outs to workers 55 and older. Also, the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals has claimed the right to overrule a worker’s decision if they think he is not looking out for himself.
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Sponsored by Sen. Janéa Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, SB 5127 says that if a worker is represented by an attorney, the state board cannot second-guess the worker’s decision to accept a cash-out.
The bill also lowers to 40 the minimum age for a worker to accept a cash-out. (The state stays on the hook for medical claims).
The people who deal with these claims emphasize how different each claim is. The injuries are different, the workers’ skills are different, their families are different and their plans are different.
To label a worker “disabled” and pension him off does protect him. But to give him a choice respects him.
Passage of this bill will also offset much, and perhaps all, of the $1.8 billion extra that the state Department of Labor and Industries says will be needed over the next 10 years to put the state disability funds on a prudent basis.
Without the bill, the state will have to raise taxes on payrolls, which raises the price of creating and sustaining jobs.