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Published on Friday, July 31, 2015

Few personnel bills pass this session

In the personnel and pensions area, the theme for 2016 was similar to that from the last two years – many proposals introduced, but the political differences between the House and Senate meant few bills were passed.

Several bills introduced sought to modify workers’ compensation, but no significant changes occurred. The Legislature did pass bills creating work groups to look at occupational disease presumptions and simplifying workers’ compensation claims calculations.

A few different pieces of legislation included opening collective bargaining negotiation sessions to the public. Cities have significant concerns with this concept. Proponents of open collective bargaining argue it would create greater transparency and lead to cost savings. They point to other states with open bargaining sessions. AWC will be looking at the issue in more detail over the interim as we expect this issue to arise in the future.

Budget pressures this session led legislators to look at sweeping approximately $9 million in Fire Insurance Premium Tax funds that have historically been distributed to cities to assist with their pre-LEOFF and LEOFF 1 medical and pension obligations. In the end, cities successfully convinced the Legislature to leave those funds alone. However, it highlighted the lack of understanding about these legacy pension funds and the significant ongoing fiscal impact on cities. To help develop a better understanding of these programs, AWC is gathering information from impacted cities. If you have information about your city’s program, please share it with AWC’s Candice Bock or Serena Dolly.

In an interesting twist, the Legislature funded the LEOFF 2 Benefits Improvement Account created in 2008 as part of the Local Public Safety Enhancement Fund. This fund was intended to dedicate monies in equal portions to local criminal justice programs and future LEOFF 2 benefits. The new funding was supposed to commence in 2011 with $5 million split equally between the two purposes. However, the threshold trigger of 5% state revenue growth wasn’t hit that year. The next distribution of $10 million was supposed to occur in 2013, but citing budget constraints, the Legislature did not fund it. For 2015, the Legislature funded $15 million solely to the Benefits Improvement Account. Instead of funding through the state general fund, as intended, the Legislature took approximately $15 million from the LEOFF 2 Pension Fund and put it in the Benefits Improvement Account. Essentially this move takes money that was intended to pay for existing retirement benefits for LEOFF 2 and dedicates it to funding future benefit enhancements.

The Governor vetoed the provision that outlined the Legislature’s intent to continue to fund the Benefits Improvement Account from the existing pension fund in the future. In the veto message, Governor Inslee sited concerns about potentially undermining the pension fund’s stability with future transfers, and AWC has many questions and concerns about this strange transfer. We support stable and sustainable pension rates and have concerns about any actions that may lead to increased rates. We are also disappointed that the budget did not include the corresponding equal contribution to local criminal justice programs. AWC will continue to watch this and other pension issues very closely.

Finally, the Legislature did not make any changes to the 2015 pension rates as recommended by the Pension Funding Council and LEOFF 2 Board. The rates for FY 2015 are:

Plan FY 2015 employer rate
PERS 11.00
PSERS 11.36
LEOFF 2 5.05
BillTracker Bill # Descriptive title Final status
  HB 1194 Allowing a remarried surviving spouse of a LEOFF 1 or 2 member killed in the line of duty to continue receiving worker’s compensation benefits Law; Effective 7/24/2015
  HB 1604 Creating a work group on occupational disease exposure for firefighters Law; Effective 7/24/2015
  SB 5084 Making changes to the all payer health care claims database established in 2014 Law; Effective 7/24/2015
  SB 5510 Simplifying and adding certainty to the calculation of workers' compensation benefits by creating a working group to develop recommendations Law; Effective 7/24/2015
  HB 1122 Extending binding interest arbitration to all fire, police, and emergency dispatchers Failed
  HB 1163 Requiring employers to provide paid vacation leave Failed
Yes  HB 1230 Authorizing the ordering of interest arbitration Failed
  HB 1253 Requiring workers to report workplace injuries immediately to the employer Failed
  HB 1273 Implementing family and medical leave insurance Failed
  HB 1354 Establishing the Employee Anti-Retaliation Act Failed
  HB 1356 Establishing miminim standards for sick leave Failed
  HB 1437 Making changes to the all payer health care claims database established in 2014 Failed
  HB 1602 Extending presumptive disease to emergency medical technicians Failed
  HB 1603 Extending presumptive disease to public employee fire investigators Failed
  HB 2138 Providing annual cost of living increases to PERS 1 retirees Failed
  SB 5306 Establishing miminum standards for sick leave Failed
  SB 5329 Requiring public employee collective bargaining sessions to be open meetings Failed
  SB 5435 Requiring all cities and counties participating in state retirement systems to offer the state’s deferred compensation program Failed
  SB 5509 Concerning workers' compensation reform through clarification of occupational disease claims Failed
  SB 5569 Establishing the Employee Anti-Retaliation Act Failed
  SB 5576 Requiring workers to report workplace injuries "immediately" to the employer Failed
  SB 6017 Providing annual cost of living increases to PERS 1 retirees Failed
  SB 6126 Requiring public employee collective bargaining sessions to be open meetings Failed