Retirement & Health Benefits for February 26, 2021

Fred Yancey | The Nexus Group
Feb 26, 2021
Retirement Blog

“Sturm und Drang?” “Ah…I see that I’ll have to introduce you to the finer points of German literature. It means passionate turmoil—literally translated, ‘storm and stress.’ ~ Anonymous”

Both Houses are focusing on ‘floor’ action. They have primarily voted to pass bills that have the support of both parties. Proposals that do not have such consent continue to be approved along party lines. And some bills such as those dealing with police and/or guns generate lively debate. Bills have to be out of their houses of origin by the end of the day March 9th. So, these floor debates will get even more spirited as the controversial bills come before the bodies.

After the March date, bills that failed to clear their house of origin are either still alive because they are deemed necessary to implement the budget, or they are ‘dead’. (Note: It is probably better to think of ‘dead’ bills as ‘zombie bills’ because they potentially could be resurrected.)

Here is a summary of what is still in obvious play. Please note that developments in the Legislature are sometimes spontaneous and unpredictable. This is especially true as deadlines near. This update is accurate when it was written.

Retirement Related Proposals

SB 5021 | Concerning the effect of expenditure reduction efforts on retirement benefits for public employees, including those participating in the shared work program.

This bill provides that specified public pension and retirement calculations will not be reduced as a result of state mandated furloughs. (Passed the Senate 29/20. Assigned to House Appropriations Committee.)

ESSB 5115 | Establishing health emergency labor standards. The bill:

  • Creates an occupational disease presumption for frontline employees during a public health emergency for the purposes of workers’ compensation.
  • Requires employers to notify L&I when a certain percentage of their workforce becomes infected during a public health emergency.
  • Requires employers to provide written notice to employees on the premises and their union of potential exposure to the infectious or contagious disease during a public health emergency.
  • Prohibits discrimination against an employee who is high risk for seeking accommodation that protects them from the disease or using all available leave options if no accommodation is reasonable.

The fiscal note, which may well be based on the original bill, shows an increase in benefits paid of $90 M in ’22; $98 M in ’23, and $104M in ’24 in addition to the regular historical pattern of L & I benefits paid. (Passed the Senate 48/1. Assigned to House Labor Committee.)

SB 5352 | Allowing new government employees the option of opting out of retirement system membership if the employee is age sixty or older when first hired or when the employee’s employer opts into retirement plan participation. (Senate Rules).

SB 5367 | Directing the department of retirement systems to create rules regarding automatic refunds of retirement contributions in the retirement systems listed in RCW 41.50.030. (Senate Rules).

SB 5453 | Concerning plans 1 and 2 of the state retirement systems. This bill by Senator Schoesler was introduced on Feb. 12th and assigned to Ways and Means. Although no hearing to date has been set, this bill is NTIB.

School Employee Benefit Board (SEEB)

SB 5322 | Prohibiting dual enrollment between school employees’ benefits board and public employees’ benefits board programs. (Passed the Senate 48/0/1 and assigned to House Appropriations Committee).

SSB 5326 | Concerning health and pension benefits for school bus drivers employed by private nongovernmental entities.

This bill was moved to the Rules Committee after the Ways & Means Executive Session on Feb. 22. Although a number of amendments were initially proposed, mostly by the R’s, most were withdrawn. A striker (substitute bill) was proposed and passed along party lines (14/11) with the exception of Democrat Mark Mullet voting against. As the prime sponsor, Senator Robinson stated, the underlying intention of the bill is that all additional district costs would be covered. “The intent is for districts to remain whole.” But she did object to the one R amendment that would have made this change in costs part of Basic Education.

Three items of note:

  1. First, the fiscal note had two statements that are concerning: “Non-zero but indeterminate cost and/or savings.” and “The assumptions outlined above would create total expenditures of approximately $14.5 million per school year. Since districts are currently playing (sic) contracted costs for the purposes of supplying health benefits to their employees, the fiscal impact of this bill is less than the $14.5 million shown above.” No one knows what this means, although how can the state budget to cover this expense if the cost is indeterminate?
  2. Private employees would have to meet the 630-hour eligibility requirement to get health benefits, and
  3. How does one insure (audit) that the private contractor is indeed paying the employee proper benefits?

(Senate Rules Committee).

Other Bills:

There are a number of bills proposed that deal with expanding various employee benefits and qualifications. They address such areas as unemployment compensation, family and medical leave, and workmen’s compensation. These proposals may or may not apply to school districts and represent potential added costs to a district’s operations.

Two bills (SHB 1073 and SSB 5097 ) in the 2021 virtual legislative session are proposing changes.

SHB 1073 expands coverage of the paid family and medical leave program. It modifies the definition of “family member” for Paid Family and Medical Leave and provides temporary alternate eligibility for claims through June 30, 2022. (House Rules)

SSB 5097 expands coverage of the paid family and medical leave program. It a) changes the definition of family member, b) modifies the requirements for certain employment protections upon return from leave, and c) modifies which employees are eligible for continuation of health benefits during leave. (Senate Floor Calendar).

SHB 1363 | Addressing secondary trauma in the K–12 workforce. It is in Rules Committee awaiting scheduling for floor action. (Passed House 58/40.)

HB 1486 | Concerning qualifications for unemployment insurance when an individual voluntarily leaves work. (House Rules).

SHB 1492 | Concerning extended benefits in the unemployment insurance system.

This bill:

  • Allows claimants of unemployment insurance to be eligible for extended benefits regardless of whether their 52-week benefit year has expired.
  • Allows the state’s extended benefit program to “trigger on” without having to wait the 13 weeks between extended benefit periods.
  • Amends a job search provision, for the purposes of federal conformity, regarding denying extended benefits for failing to accept an offer of, or apply for, suitable work.

(Passed the House 94/2).

SSB 5064 | Concerning qualifications for unemployment insurance when an individual voluntarily leaves work. (Senate floor calendar).

SSB 5137 | Suspending workers’ compensation cost-of-living adjustments for fiscal year 2022, changing the basis of certain future adjustments to the consumer price index, and capping the rate of increase for future adjustments. (Senate floor calendar).

SSB 5425 | Concerning extended benefits in the unemployment insurance system. This bill a) allows claimants to be eligible for unemployment insurance extended benefits regardless of whether their 52-week benefit year has expired, b) allows the state’s extended benefit program to “trigger on” without having to wait the 13 weeks between extended benefit periods, and c) amends a job search provision, for the purposes of federal conformity, regarding denying extended benefits for failing to accept an offer of, or apply for, suitable work. (Senate Rules).

Fred Yancey
The Nexus Groups


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