State Needs More Time on Workers' Comp Rates


The Department of Labor and Industries postponed by one week a decision due Wednesday on whether to raise workers' compensation premiums by an average of 40 percent. A decision is now expected on Nov. 26 or 27.

A state senator from Yakima wants the decision delayed even longer, to Jan. 31.

Citing the state's "tough economic times," Republican Sen. Alex Deccio wants Gov. Gary Locke to direct Labor and Industries to come up with more alternatives.

Deccio, a member of the Senate's Labor, Commerce & Financial Institutions Committee, said in a Nov. 14 letter to Locke that Labor and Industries should provide the Legislature "with a full range of options for addressing the problems with our industrial insurance program. ... An increase of this magnitude is not acceptable."

Robert Nelson, spokesman for the department, said the department isn't likely to change its timetable.

If approved, new rates would take effect Jan. 1 and would be the first increase in eight years.

Nelson said the one-week delay was necessary because the volume of public comment on the proposed increase turned out to be so large. Gary Moore, the department's director, didn't receive the transcripts until Wednesday. "He wants more time to review all the comments," Nelson said.

Even if there was more time, Nelson doubted the Legislature would relish taking up the difficult and politically volatile workers' compensation issue.

"Why would they want to do that when there is a director who provides them with cover?" Nelson said.

Related Story:

Rate hikes by L&I must wait - Department will finish compiling public comment

John Stucke
Spokesman-Review Staff writer


Washington businesses will have to wait until next week to find out if the state Department of Labor and Industries will follow through on rate hikes to its workers' compensation program.

The decision was pushed back about a week while the department finishes compiling public comments and conducts a thorough review.

"After we finish reading everything, we're going to go back and rerun some numbers before anything is said," L&I spokesman R.T. Nelson said.

The proposed rate hikes have been maligned by businesses that face an average increase of 40.5 percent. The increase is more for many others, especially those businesses where employees are at greater risk of injury.

Thomas said L&I received about 900 letters, 500 e-mails, and hosted about 800 people who attended seven public hearings around the state.

The agency's meeting in Spokane last month overflowed with business people upset with such an increase. It set the stage for meetings across the state where business leaders criticized the program or sought some sort of compromise.

At a time when businesses are coping with other skyrocketing insurance rates and rising wages, many likened the looming L&I increase as a final blow.

Many businesses say they are struggling with a slumping economy and fleeting hopes of a quick turnaround.

At L&I, many of the same problems have put the workers' compensation program in a similar predicament. Rising claims and costs, coupled with investment losses, has the program in a pinch.

The workers' comp program contingency fund now stands at about 3 percent, down from 28 percent in the late 1990s. The current contingency is below the 10 percent agreed to by business and labor representatives who help oversee the program.

Just to maintain the reserves at 3 percent, L&I Director Gary Moore has advocated the rate increases, which will collect an extra $371 million.

Under the proposed rate increases, the average worker will pay an extra $85 per year, and businesses would pay, on average, an extra $198 per year for every employee.

•Business reporter John Stucke can be reached at (509) 459-5419 or at


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