Dear Friends and Neighbors,
We are now in the third week of a special session that has been anything but “special.” You all know why the Legislature didn't finish its work during the 105-day regulars session: despite controlling the Senate, the House and the governor's mansion, Democrats could not agree on a budget solution that addresses our projected $5 billion shortfall.
I was hoping that the governor's decision to call a 30-day special session meant that negotiations were picking up steam and budget writers were closer to wrapping up their differences on the budget. Clearly, I'm a “glass is half-full” kind of guy.
Legislators in the House didn't do much the first week of session. In fact, only our budget leaders were in town for budget talks. Then, last week, I drove to Olympia on Sunday to be ready to vote on Monday at 10:00 a.m. We worked on 10 bills and then adjourned. I stayed in town for a couple of days with some meetings and appointments because they scheduled a House Ways and Means Committee meeting on Thursday, where we spent over 11 hours in committee! Exhausting.
This week looks similar – drove over on Sunday for floor action Monday morning to vote on six bills. Tuesday we voted on a few more bills and then Ways and Means Committee is scheduled again for Wednesday. There are many bills that are necessary to implement the budget and these bills are just sitting and we aren't even working on them. Until we do, we won't have the opportunity to finish within the 30-day special session.
At this snail's pace, my glass is emptying fast. My fear is that the majority party is going to drag this out until the next revenue forecast which is June 16. This would be a further waste of taxpayer dollars (up to $16,000 per day for special session) and completely unnecessary in my opinion.
One of the main sticking points in the budget negotiations between the House and Senate is workers' compensation reform. The Senate is assuming some savings in their budget as a result of a bi-partisan bill to help reform workers' comp. The House Democrats do not like this bill and do not use the savings in their budget proposal, even though it's something the governor, the Senate, and a majority of Representatives – both R and D alike – support.
Workers' Compensation Reform
One of my primary goals this session has been to help move policies through the Legislature that will help create jobs in the private sector and get Washington working again.
We succeeded early in the session with reform legislation that reduces unemployment insurance premiums by more than $300 million dollars, providing a significant savings for employers across the state. We also passed a bill that was signed into law earlier in session that allows small businesses an additional seven calendar days to correct unintentional rule violations before a fine or citation is issued.
Throughout the session, we have also been working on another key piece of the job-creation puzzle: workers' compensation reform. The Governor said by the middle of next year, the Worker's Comp fund will be in default. Even double-digit increases will not save the fund.
Major workers' compensation reform legislation, Senate Bill 5566, passed the Senate in early March with strong bipartisan support. The measure would provide a new, flexible option for workers to voluntarily settle claims. It includes a wage subsidy to encourage workers a faster return to work without a reduction in benefits. If the bill passes, it could save the state about $1.2 billion over the next two years. That would mean lower costs and greater certainty for employers.
Unfortunately, the bill languished in the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee and did not come up for a vote during the regular legislative session.
It's been frustrating to see how the majority party has dragged its feet toward workers' compensation reform. We have made several motions to bring the measure directly to the House floor for a vote, but the motions continue to fail on a near party-line vote. Speaker of the House Frank Chopp has close ties to organized labor and has thus far used a heavy hand to thwart all our efforts.
We will continue fighting for this legislation and other job-creation bills that will get Washington working again.
If you want more information, the Seattle Times has written about this issue recently in their editorial section. Click one of the links below:
As always, feel free to contact me with your questions, concerns or ideas. It is an absolute honor and privilege to serve you in Olympia.