It's not perfect. It's less than what employers wanted.
But it's progress, at long last.
Gov. Chris Gregoire and the leaders of the four legislative caucuses struck a deal Sunday that is expected to bring significant savings to the state's troubled workers' compensation system.
Details of the agreement, including the exact bill language, were unclear late Sunday, but the deal was expected to stave off double-digit workers' comp premium hikes next year for the vast majority of Washington employers.
"It's not the full reform we were seeking," said Kris Tefft, AWB's general counsel and government affairs director for workers' compensation. "This package is much less than what we wanted, but it's more than what we have now. It's a true compromise."
Organized labor, which has fought workers' comp reform for years, denounced the deal as "atrocious" and "absolutely astounding." But House Speaker Frank Chopp, who had been standing firm with labor, called the agreement a "fair deal for everyone," including injured workers.
When asked about labor's opposition, Gregoire said it's normal for some groups to express concern whenever there is change. "This is a fair package," she said. "Their interests were discussed."
The deal does not include lump-sum payments for injured workers, but it does allow for structured settlements, which is a move in the right direction.
Other provisions include:
- A one-year freeze in cost-of-living adjustments for injured workers
- Wage subsidies for employers who bring injured workers back to work quickly
- A statewide health-care provider network establishing credentials for those who treat injured workers
- Expansion of the number of specialized facilities to treat injured workers
- Deducting benefits paid for prior disability awards from a workers' pension award
- Establishing a rainy day fund for the workers' comp system
AWB President Don Brunell called the agreement a step in the right direction. "Voluntary structured settlements will provide some systemic relief, but this agreement cannot be the last step in the journey toward reform," Brunell said. "We must continue to work together –- business and labor alike -– to find solutions that work for employers and injured employees."
The Seattle Times: Lawmakers reach likely deal on workers' comp
Political Buzz (TNT blog): Special session update: Day 23
The Capitol Record (TVW blog): Workers' comp deal: 'We have now produced what I consider to be a good system'
Washington State Wire: Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Workers' Comp -- a 'Baby Step' Toward Reform
The Spokesman-Review: Workers' comp gets an overhaul
Governor's Office: Gov. Chris Gregoire's statement
House Democratic Caucus: Speaker Frank Chopp's statement
Washington House Republicans: Workers' compensation reform
Senate Republican Caucus: Holmquist Newbry announces bipartisan agreement on workers' comp
The Hopper (Senate Democrats' blog): Senate, House and governor announce agreement on workers' comp