State estimates settlement option would save $1.2B

Workers' comp: Opponents say it's just a cost shift

March 24, 2011 

A business-backed Senate bill allowing a settlement option for the state's workers' compensation system would result in savings of about $1.2 billion during the next two years, according to a state estimate released late Tuesday.

The hefty estimate is a new turn in this session’s debate over workers’ compensation. A state auditor’s report last December pegged parts of the system as insolvent or in danger of becoming insolvent in the next five years.

But opponents said Wednesday that the “savings” are a cost shift to injured workers and that settlements could lead those laborers to other state assistance programs. Labor interest groups have steadfastly opposed the settlement option, instead backing House bills that aim to streamline the system for savings of about $450 million over six years.

Meanwhile, lawmakers say Gov. Chris Gregoire is rolling out another proposal this week. Earlier this session, Gregoire set the pace by backing a middle-of-the-road bills package that included a limited settlement option.

Republican leaders, who met Wednesday with Gregoire, said the governor is not backing a settlement option now.

“If the governor would just stay where she’s at and let us work that,” said Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to questions about her upcoming proposal.

Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, chairman of the House’s labor committee, said he doesn’t plan to give the bill a hearing, stalling its advance. But that doesn’t entirely kill the bill because lawmakers can procedurally bring it up for a vote on the floor later on – a hard task.

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