Politics & Government

UPDATE: Worker-comp deal on way to governor

UPDATE: A solid bipartisan House majority voted this afternoon to approve one of the 2011 session’s most contentious issues: cutting costs in the state-run worker compensation system. House Bill 2123 later passed the Senate and goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire for signing.

Despite organized labor’s rejection of the bill, the House vote was 69-to-26 in favor. House Democrats were split with 29 in favor, 25 opposed and two missing.

The compromise bill emerged from settlement talks that ended Sunday, led by Gov. Chris Gregoire who strongly supported the agreement.

The deal is welcomed by business as a step to lower rate increases for businesses and scorned by the Washington State Labor Council. The right-of-center Washington Policy Center questioned how much of the feared premium hikes can be avoided.

The reform package is expected to save more than $1 billion in the insurance trust fund over four years, according to an analysis from the Governor’s Office that included two major pieces of legislation already passed to improve the treatment of injured workers.

The most controversial element of the package, called a “structured settlement,” allows permanently injured workers to take a series of lump-sum payments to settle lifetime claims and is expected to save more than half of the money in the legislation, according to that analysis.

Twenty-five Democrats and one Republican voted against, including:

** South Sound Reps. Jeannie Darneille of Tacoma; Sam Hunt of Olympia, Chris Reykdal of Tumwater, Steve Kirby of Tacoma and Connie Ladenburg of Tacoma. Reykdal and Kirby offered amendments. Reykdal said the fund was not in immediate danger of going insolvent, and Kirby said the worker protections did not go far enough.

** Republican Rep. Paul Harris of Vancouver voted against the measure.

The 29 Democrats and 40 Republicans voting in favor included South Sound:

** Republican Reps. Gary Alexander, Thurston County; Cathy Dahlquist of Enumclaw; Bruce Dammeier, Puyallup; Richard DeBolt, Chehalis; J.T. Wilcox, Yelm; and Hans Zeiger, Puyallup.

** Democratic Reps. Fred Finn, Thurston County; Tami Green, Lakewood; Kathy Haigh, Shelton; Chris Hurst, Enumclaw; Laurie Jinkins, Tacoma; Troy Kelley, Tacoma; and Larry Seaquist, Gig Harbor.

Republican Rep. Jim McCune of Graham was absent (along with two Democrats).

The labor council was unable to say immediately if it would or would not mount a referendum or initiative to overturn the changes. The House approved an emergency-clause amendment from Republican Rep. Barbara Bailey, who is a frequent critic of emergency clauses, which would prevent a referendum. A referendum requires half the voter signatures and allows a bit more time to collect them than does an initiative.

UPDATES to original 5:36 p.m. post fix Rep. Hurst's name, corrects Rep. Darneille's vote to yes, and adds Senate passage.

UPDATE: The bill passed the Senate on a 35-to-12 vote with two lawmakers absent.

Among South Sound senators, the vote in favor included:

** Republican Sens. Randi Becker, Eatonville; Mike Carrell, Lakewood; Pam Roach, Auburn; Dan Swecker, Rochester. ** Democratic Sens. Tracey Eide, Federal Way; Jim Kastama, Puyallup; Derek Kilmer, Gig Harbor; Debbie Regala, Tacoma; Tim Sheldon, Potlatch.

Those voting against in the Senate were:

** Democratic Sens. Steve Conway of Tacoma and Karen Fraser of Thurston County.