Reforming government programs, especially when they're as entrenched as Washington's 100-year-old workers' compensation system, is not easy.
But it's possible.
That was one of the messages that Kris Tefft, AWB's general counsel and government affairs director, shared earlier this month at the annual meeting of the Washington Forest Protection Association.
The Legislature proved it this year by adopting significant reform legislation regarding unemployment insurance and workers' compensation, Tefft said during a panel discussion on government reform and streamlining.
The unemployment insurance legislation, approved early in the 2011 regular session, is expected to save employers $360 million.
Workers' compensation reform, passed in dramatic fashion at the end of the first special session, is projected to save $1.1 billion over the next four years.
As positive as that sounds, some employers will still feel the sting of higher workers' comp insurance costs next year. That's because the Department of Labor wants to begin rebuilding depleted reserves.
So even though it doesn't need to raise rates to break even, officials have still proposed an average 2.5 percent rate hike for 2012.
That's just the average increase. Some employers, particularly those involved in logging, will see much higher increases -- as much as 15 percent or more.
AWB would have preferred that officials let business "enjoy the fruits" of the reform without an inrease in 2012 and put together a plan for rebuilding reserves later, hopefully when the economy is better, saidTefft.
Jim Justin, Gov. Chris Gregoire's legislative director, offered a less than reassuring response: "We're not convinced it's going to get better that much quicker, 'it' being the economy."
Looking ahead, Tefft said AWB will push for legislation next year aimed at addressing what he described as an "uneasy relationship" between state and federal workplace laws.
Specifically, employers need to be given a safe harbor when they act in good faith on either the requirments of federal law or the official advice of a state agency.
Watch video of the complete panel discussion here.