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Worker’s comp continues as holdup; will there be deal?

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on May 18, 2011 at 10:16 am |
May 18, 2011 10:16 am

Denizens of the Legislative Building are waiting to see whether a resolution will be reached on workers’ compensation in the next few days that would provide a way for lawmakers to finish their work and go home.

Whatever has happened so far this week in high-level meetings between legislative leaders and the governor on the topic, word hadn’t filtered down yet as of late Tuesday to lobbyists and rank-and-file legislators.

Union-friendly lawmakers had planned a press conference Tuesday morning, but legislative leaders asked them to call it off. There were rumors that a deal was imminent, but nothing materialized.

The two sides in the House remain divided on the Senate’s demand to allow injured workers to take a lump-sum payment to settle claims against their employers.

The settlements appear to have the votes to pass on the House floor. Rep. Chris Hurst, a conservative Enumclaw Democrat, says he thinks if House members were forced to vote, as many as 18 Democrats would join Republicans, easily passing the bill designed by business-friendly House Democrats. Even if his count is high, nine Democrats including Hurst have officially signed on in support of the bill, enough to squeak it through.

But as it turns out, the vote count inside House Democrats’ private caucus room is what counts. Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood, said a majority of House Democrats — 45 of the caucus’s 56 members — oppose the centrist Democrats’ bill. It won’t go to the floor with that kind of opposition, Green said: “It will blow up our caucus if that happens.”

And Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, said a smaller majority of the caucus is so dead set against it, they were set to attend the news conference denouncing it on Tuesday, before it was postponed. She said she thinks there would have been about 31 House Democrats in attendance, with a few senators joining them.

Hurst said the centrists have addressed opposition by adding protections for workers — for example, exempting medical care from the future benefits workers give up when they accept a settlement –  yet “the other side has not taken so much as a millimeter (step) toward us.”

But House liberals maintain workers would be pressured into settlements. They have offered three alternative bills intended to save money on the worker’s comp system, but aren’t touching settlements. “We already said we’re not going to do it, and we mean it,” Appleton said.

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