Don't rule it out.
That's coming from three legisaltors who should know: Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett and Rep. Mike Manweller, R-Ellensburg. The trio of lawmakers who serve on the Commerce and Labor committees in the Senate and House all conceeded today the very real possibility that key workers' reform bills may not be dealt with until the very end of session this year.Their remarks were delivered during the final policy panel of today's AWB Legislative Day in Olympia.
The panel was sponsored by Littler in Seattle and moderated by Littler's Doug Smith, chair of the AWB Employment Law Committee. (The chairwoman of the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee, Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, was invited to attend but did not participate due to other legislative commitments.)
Sells, chair of the House committee, has seen many a legislative session come and go and understands the machinations of the legislative process as well as anyone.
"Workers' compensation reform will always come up and be an issue," said Sells. "I think transportation is a bigger issue this session. We need to be looking at higher education -- if we don't have trained workers, if we don't have strong middle class families, if we don't look at education funding, doing some of this other stuff is almost cosmetic," he said.
Manweller, a freshman legislator who serves as ranking Republican on Sells' committee, said he understands the political workings at stake with an issue as complex as workers' comp.
"A lot of this is going to be endgame stuff," he said. "Either no one's going to get anything, or you'll get a grand bargain."
Conway, a veteran lawmaker in both the House and Senate, acknowledged the importance of workers' comp reform to AWB and its members. On Monday, a key measure removing the lowering the age reuirement for voluntary settlement agreements, Senate Bill 5127, moved out of the Senate on a 30-19 vote. But Conway, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce & labor Committee, believes more must be done to address the bigger picture of workers' compensation in the state.
"I appreciate the efforts to get some predictability in rates," Conway said. "I am very committed to working with you to stabilize these rates so we don't see huge increases."
They also discussed a proposal to expand the City of Seattle's controversial mandatory sick-leave policy statewide (House Bill 1313).
Both Sells and Conway agreed that a statewide sick-leave policy makes sense -- and that it, too, might be a bargaining chip at the end of session -- but that enforcement and implemention issues remain a concern.
For Conway, it all traces back to the passage of the paid family leave measure, which is also being proposed for elimination this session. Paid family leave was approved by the 2007 Legislature but was never funded. Senate BIll 5159
"I think a lot of this stems from a debate we trying to have before the recession hit us on paid family leave. We need to figure out a statewide solution to this. It is problematic," he said, "but I think we ought to sit down and figure it out."