Column: Continue reforms made to state programs to help grow our economy
Special to the Yakima Valley Business Times
Business owners know well the state's workers' compensation program. For years, I and my Republican colleagues have put forward solutions to fix the broken system. Although claims decreased in 2010 and 2011, taxes increased to the tune of $117-$196 million for employers. In late 2010, the Accident Fund had a $360 million deficit. The growth in benefits paid out by Washington state was twice the national average. The average injured worker in Washington missed 286 days of work.
In 2011, the Legislature took a small step in the right direction with a compromise to reform our state's workers' compensation program. It provided several important updates:
- It authorized structured settlement agreements beginning at age 55 in 2012.
- It included a one-year cost-of-living freeze with no catch-up provided.
- It set up a rainy day fund capped at 30 percent of total liabilities of combined assets.
It was estimated these and other changes would save $1.1 billion over four years. The state has already seen $162 million in savings, preventing a rate increase for 2013.
This year, we can do more. First, we can lower the age for workers eligible to receive the structured settlement option. This would not include health care benefits, so injured workers can continue to receive care for their injury or disability. Expanding the settlement option would help employers and workers move on and save more money for employers paying into the system.
Second, we can help employers make their workplaces safer. I have spoken with business owners who struggle to improve their safety record but don't find the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) approachable. However, in Northwest Washington, a pilot program was started called Blueprint for Safety. It was created by state workers at L&I to work together with employers to identify ways they can change the culture of safety in the workplace. This has been a great success story for the department and for the employers involved. The Legislature should consider expanding it. I proposed such an expansion in the 2012 session, and it almost unanimously passed in the House and Senate. However, it was vetoed by the governor. Blueprint for Safety is a program that will bring a significant return on investment.
Some in Olympia may be skeptical of reforms. But when employment rates continue to stagnate, and tax collections grow at a snail's pace, we must do more to help job creators balance their books, keep their doors open and preserve the jobs for people they employ. We must get Washington working again.
Rep. Bruce Chandler represents the 15th District, which includes east Yakima County. He serves on the House Business and Financial Services Committee and owns and operates a commercial fruit orchard in Granger. He can be reached at (360) 786-7960 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also sign up for his periodic e-mail updates at houserepublicans.wa.gov/chandler.