Workers’ comp package easily passes in Olympia

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OLYMPIA — The state Legislature easily passed a package to overhaul Washington’s workers’ compensation system Monday, quickly approving the plan over the objections of labor groups.

Lawmakers approved the measure just a day after reaching a bipartisan agreement on it. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said she wasn’t enthusiastic about parts of the bill she helped negotiate and said there were flaws that may need to be fixed in the future. Still, she supported it.

“I do believe it strikes a fair and reasonable balance,” Kohl-Welles said.

Both the House and Senate passed the measure by about three-to-one margins.

Labor groups opposed a large part of the overhaul because it included limited settlements. They believe the plan could lead injured workers to accept fewer benefits than they would otherwise be entitled to receive.

Some lawmakers echoed those sentiments during debate on the bill. Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, said the system only saves money by reducing benefits.

“We’re harming workers,” he said.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Senate and business advocates pushed for a major overhaul of the system because of concerns about its long-term financial sustainability. Businesses that fund the system faced an average rate increase of 12 percent for 2011 and feared another double-digit increase in 2012.

After initially considering offering lump-sum financial settlements for some workers, lawmakers ended up with a so-called structured settlements plan. It would allow older workers to get settlements that would be paid over a period of time.