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Republicans lose procedural showdown on worker’s comp

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on April 14, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
April 14, 2011 6:56 pm

Republicans are disappointed, conservative Democrats are steaming and prospects for a deal on worker’s compensation have dimmed further — all because of the failure today of a procedural vote.

A moment’s pause here for the substance of the debate: SB 5566 has passed the Senate and would allow what opponents in labor call “compromise and release” or what supporters in business call “voluntary settlements.” Whatever the name, they would save money for the state’s worker’s-comp system by allowing injured workers and their employers to resolve their claims with lump-sum settlements.

The debate is over whether workers would be pressured into settlements, but that substance didn’t come up for debate on the House floor today. Instead Republicans, frustrated that Labor Committee Chairman Mike Sells refuses to allow a vote on the bill, made a procedural motion that would have allowed them to pull the bill directly to the floor. Some are calling it the “nuclear option.”

The motion failed on a nearly party-line vote, 54-43.

“To say I am disappointed is an understatement,” Republican Rep. Cary Condotta of East Wenatchee said in a statement. “I knew the bill would be challenged in the House by labor and their allies, but I hoped common sense would prevail. The Senate figured it out, the governor is on board, and I believe we have the votes in the House to pass it if we could take an actual vote on the bill.”

Republicans hoped to force the centrist Democrats who support lump-sum settlements to side with them. Those moderate Democrats, known around Olympia as the “Roadkill Caucus,” said they had warned Republicans they were on their own — that Democrats weren’t about to oppose House Speaker Frank Chopp on a procedural vote.

To do so would have torn the Democratic caucus apart, said Rep. Chris Hurst of Enumclaw. “It would have melted the whole place down,” Hurst said.

Hurst and Rep. Troy Kelley of Tacoma say they and other moderates were inching toward finding a compromise on the broader issue of worker’s comp solvency when Republicans blew it all up. They fired their only weapon prematurely, Hurst said, and lost what leverage they had.

“This destroyed a lot of the momentum and a lot of the pressure to get a compromise deal,” he said.

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