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Originally published March 7, 2011 at 5:06 PM | Page modified March 9, 2011 at 1:27 PM

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Corrected version

Washington's state House should pass workers compensation reform bill

The Seattle Times editorial board supports Senate Bill 5566, which would allow injured Washington state workers to take their Labor & Industries benefit in a lump sum.

The passage of the workers' compensation bill in the state Senate is good news. Now the question is whether Speaker Frank Chopp allows a floor vote. He should.

The bill, Senate Bill 5566, is a problem for Democrats: though urgently requested by Gov. Chris Gregoire, it is opposed by organized labor. Democrats do not like to go against the unions, but on Saturday about half their Senate caucus joined Republicans and did. The numbers tell the story why.

Washington's generous system of state industrial insurance is sliding into multimillion-dollar deficits. At last measurement, the Department of Labor & Industries' accident and pension funds were $360 million in the hole, and these, plus the medical fund, are forecast to all be in the red within five years, even with regular tax increases.

Opponents have no answer for these problems other than to raise taxes even more. But these are taxes on labor hours, which is a tax on creating a job. Already this year the tax is up 12 percent, and the actuaries had recommended almost 18 percent.

As passed, the bill is minus several of Gregoire's proposals. Two key ones remain. There is to be a program subsidizing the wages for workers who go back to work on light duty, which will reduce permanent disability claims. And there is to be an option for certain workers to take their benefits in lump sums, which in the long run will save the state money. A separate successful bill enacts a state-managed network of doctors, so that the state can cull out the ones who run their practices as disability mills.

Organized labor does not like the lump-sum idea, arguing that injured workers are in no position to judge their own interests. The bill, however, would have the offers reviewed by the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals, where Labor has the same representation as business. A worker who accepted a settlement would also have 30 days to cancel it.

These are reasonable proposals. The House should have a floor vote on this bill, and support it.

This editorial originally said Senate Bill 5566 included a proposal to create a statewide provider network for workers' compensation claims. That provision was in a separate bill that has been passed already.

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