Morning Briefing - December 12, 2018
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December 12, 2018

Feds Sue to Quash State Hanford Workers’ Compensation Law

By ExchangeMonitor

The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday sued the state of Washington over a new law that eases state workers’ compensation requirements for claims from employees of the Department of Energy’s Hanford Site.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington after a telephone discussion Monday between attorneys with the Justice Department and the Washington state Attorney General’s Office to clarify the federal government’s concerns.

The Justice Department says the state law that took effect in June violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. It attempts to directly regulate the federal government and holds it to a stricter standard that other entities in the state, according to the lawsuit. “It singles out DOE, its contractors, and the federally owned and operated portions of Hanford for a substantially more burdensome and costly workers’ compensation scheme,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit asks that the court declare the state law invalid, enjoin its enforcement, and award the federal government costs of the proceeding.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, condemned the lawsuit during a press conference Tuesday, calling it a “depraved action” of the Trump administration. “The people who fought communism shouldn’t have to fight their federal government to get the health care they deserve,” he said.

In March, Inslee signed the legislation requiring the Washington state Department of Labor and Industries to presume that a wide range of health conditions suffered by Hanford personnel were caused by their work at the form plutonium production complex and current cleanup site. They include neurological and respiratory illnesses and many cancers.

The law means Hanford workers will no longer have to demonstrate a connection between their health problems and time at Hanford, even just a single eight-hour work day.

The Department of Energy, which is self-insured to pay state workers’ compensation claims for Hanford, can provide information to challenge the presumption, including the workers’ history of smoking, their lifestyle, or exposure to toxins at home or other jobs.

The federal lawsuit is based on an incorrect interpretation of the interaction of state and federal laws, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said at the press conference. Congress has given the state authority over the workers’ compensation program for Hanford contractors, he said.