The sponsor of a Senate bill to reform the state’s worker’s compensation program said she is determined to see the legislation pass this year, even as the leaders of her caucus announced Tuesday it was now off the table in budget negotiations.
“If we don’t succeed, we’ll get at it again next year,” Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, said in a telephone interview. “But right now nothing has changed for me.”
Stalled budget negotiations between the Democratic House and the mostly Republican Senate majority coalition appear to have picked up after the Office of Financial Management forecasted an estimated $121 million in new revenue for the 2013-15 biennium Tuesday morning. Hours after the announcement, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and other caucus leaders announced that worker’s compensation and other reform legislation would be delayed in order to reach a budget compromise with the House.
“Our steadfastness for the reform stays true but as far as the deal for additional revenue, we kind of had Christmas in June,” Tom said at a news conference in Olympia. “So let’s do the people’s business, wrap this up, move forward and we’ll continue the discussion next year as to why we really need those reforms.”
Senate Bill 5127, which was also supported by Sens. Curtis King, R-Yakima, and Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, would have lowered the age of eligibility for a structured settlement from 55 to 40. Holmquist Newbry said the current age requirement costs businesses and arbitrarily restricts workers options if they are hurt on the job.
The bill had some bipartisan support when it passed out of the Senate 27-18, but it was widely opposed by labor groups who argued that structured settlements usually result in workers receiving less than they are entitled to get from such claims.
Lawmakers approved reform legislation in 2011 that will lower the age of eligibility for a structured settlement to age 50 in 2016.
Holmquist Newbry said she doesn’t believe Tom’s comments Tuesday eliminate the chance of the new reform bill’s passage this session.
“We’re the only state with such a restrictive voluntary option for structured settlements,” she said. “That’s why we’re pushing so hard on it.”