Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Senate passes retro reform (SB 6035)

Moments ago the Washington State Senate acted on another of NPI's 2009 legislative priorities by passing a bill to reform the state's retrospective ratings system. The proposal, Senate Bill 6035, is prime sponsored by Senator Kohl-Welles.

The Senate decided to send SB 6035 to the House by a vote of twenty five to twenty four, a tally which mirrors yesterday's vote SB 5895.

Basically, what SB 6035 does is prevent groups like the Building Industry Association of Washington from keeping a portion of industrial insurance refunds for some non administrative purpose without their members' consent.

The retrospective ratings system, for those unfamiliar with it, is a program sponsored by the Department of Labor & Industries for businesses that are required to carry industrial insurance by law. The program allows businesses to save money if they had a safe year (they get some of their premiums back) - but participation in the program can also increase costs if a business has an unsafe year.

To mitigate risk, most businesses participate in group plans - like the one the Building Industry Association of Washington operates. The BIAW is thus an insurance broker, and freely admits that its retro pool is its number one recruiting tool. It's why many builders belong to BIAW, even if they don't like BIAW's politics.

For years, BIAW leaders - who are rigidly and unapologetically right wing - have been keeping a sizable portion of the refunds from their members and using said funds to build a huge campaign war chest, which is then used to aid Republican campaigns and launch independent expenditures against Democratic campaigns. For example, last year, the BIAW spent millions in an effort to get rid of Governor Chris Gregoire and install Dino Rossi as the state's chief executive.

BIAW leaders have gotten away with keeping a portion of the refunds because the law didn't say they couldn't. What SB 6035 does is improve the retrospective ratings system, so that now the BIAW must obtain its members' permission to keep part of their government-issued refunds for political use. The program is meant to help incentivize workplace safety. It was never intended to serve as a trough from which groups like the BIAW could amass funds for political use.

For years the BIAW has exploited this loophole and now, at last, the State Legislature is taking action to curb the outrageous abuse. We at the Northwest Progressive Institute wish to express our thanks to the twenty five Democratic senators who had the courage to vote yes and pass this important reform.


Blogger Megan said...

Is there a similar law which would impose the same standards on unions who support Democratic causes and candidates?

March 13, 2009 12:46 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Hi Megan. The answer to your question is no. You're trying to compare two completely different things, however, which are not alike.

What BIAW is doing is unilaterally keeping a portion of their members' insurance refunds to use in political campaigns. They are intercepting this money as it comes from the Department of Labor & Industries, and withholding some of it from their members.

Unions collect membership dues from their members. They often place some of that money into a political action committee. Those dues are not government-issued insurance refunds.

By the way, people working in union shops may specify that they do not want to belong to a union, and the union cannot collect dues from them to be used for political purposes. A union may only collect fees from nonmembers for the purposes of providing services directly to members and paying for the cost of representation at the bargaining table.

March 13, 2009 1:12 PM  

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