AMTA-WA 2021 Legislative Update

By Diana Thompson, LMT, and Susan Sherman, LMT, Government Relations Co-Chairs

May 4, 2021 

The following is an overview of the 2021 legislative session, to include a listing of key bills that we believe will be of interest to LMTs in their roles as health care providers, and also as employees and employers.

The 2021 legislative session adjourned on April 25, 2021. It was a long 105-day session because it was a year when the Legislature needed to pass a biennial budget. With the pandemic front and center, it was an overly complicated session, as it was almost entirely virtual. In fact, the capitol campus was closed for much of the session.

While allowing legislators to work virtually made it more difficult to connect with legislators, it gave unprecedented access to Washingtonians all over the state to participate in the legislative process. Some hearings had over 100 individuals signed up to testify! While at some point the pandemic will be in our rear-view mirror, we think that some form of virtual participation will continue.

The pandemic was the focus. When the session began, COVID-19 numbers were up, and the vaccines were just starting to be distributed. Against this backdrop, there was a legislative focus on how to help both employees and employers during this unprecedented time. You’ll see that reflected in the list of legislation below.

List of key legislation. The following are those bills, in numerical order, that we believe are most significant for the massage profession as health care providers, as well as employees and employers. The links below are to the bill’s main web page. If you want more details about a bill, just click on the link and scroll down to “Available Documents” where you’ll find the latest version of the bill, as well as the Bill Report. All of the bills noted below will be effective 90 days after the session ends on July 25, unless otherwise noted. And given the pandemic, there are an unusually large number of bills that have emergency clauses—which mean that they are effective upon the Governor’s signature.

  • E2SHB 1073, expanding coverage of the paid family and medical leave program. The legislation does the following:
    • Provides a pandemic leave assistance employee grant to certain employees who are unable to access their state paid family and medical leave benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic;
    • Outlines employee eligibility for the new grant based on alternate hours worked thresholds;
    • Provides a pandemic leave assistance employer grant to employers with fewer than 150 employees, who have an employee taking leave and receiving a grant under the act; and
    • Stipulates that employers and employees receiving pandemic leave assistance grants are subject to the provisions of the Paid Family and Medical Leave Program.

This legislation has an emergency clause and takes effect upon the Governor’s signature.

  • ESSB 5061, concerning unemployment insurance. While the legislation makes changes that benefit both employees and employers, for the purposes of this summary the legislation limits unemployment insurance rate increases by:
    • Capping the social tax;
    • Suspending the solvency surcharge tax; and
    • Relieving certain benefit charges.

Governor signed and the legislation became effective February 8, 2021, in order to keep unemployment rates from rising due to the pandemic. For a detailed overview, please see the bill report.

  • ESSB 5097, expanding coverage of the paid family and medical leave program (PFML).
    • The legislation expands the definition of family member to include any individual who regularly resides in the employee’s home or where the relationship creates an expectation that the employee care for the person, and that individual depends on the employee for care.
    • In order to keep the costs of this newly created program relatively stable, if the number of individuals utilizing leave under the PFML program as a result of the amended definition of family member exceeds 500 individuals in any calendar year before July 1, 2023, the expenses of the additional leave must be paid by the general fund into the family and medical leave insurance account.
  • ESSB 5115, establishing health emergency labor standards. What started out as extremely broad legislation has been narrowed considerably. This legislation:
    • 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;
    • Makes additional requirements applicable to employers with 50 or more employees; and
    • 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.

This legislation has an emergency clause and takes effect upon the Governor’s signature. It expires at the end of the PHE.

  • SSB 5169, concerning provider reimbursement for personal protective equipment during the state of emergency related to COVID-19. This legislation would require insurers to pay for PPE during the pandemic, at the rate of $6.57 per in person patient visit (CPT 99072).
    • AMTA-WA supported this legislation in the Senate and House.
    • While the legislation currently applies only to those insurers regulated by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner, there is a chance it will be expanded in the budget to include PEBB and SEBB plans administered by the Health Care Authority.

AMTA-WA supported this legislation, and we thank our members who sent emails to their legislators. Governor signed. The legislation became effective on April 16.

  • SSB 5185, Concerning capacity to provide informed consent for health care decisions. The legislation:
    • Establishes a presumption that a person has the capacity to make health care decisions if they are of age and not subject to a guardianship;
    • Allows a health care provider to overcome the presumption of capacity by reasonably determining that the person has demonstrated an inability to understand and appreciate the nature and consequences of a health care condition or proposed treatment; and
    • Changes terminology referring to persons who have an appointed guardian, and persons who are competent or not legally competent, to instead refer to whether or not the person has capacity.

This legislation takes effect January 1, 2022.

  • ESSB 5190, providing health care workers with presumptive benefits during a public health emergency. This legislation does the following:
    • Provides presumptive workers’ compensation coverage for health care employees who are in quarantine or contract the disease that is the subject of a public health emergency;
      • This presumption may only be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence.
    • Makes health care employees who left work to quarantine during a public health emergency eligible for unemployment insurance benefits; and
    • Provides that misconduct for unemployment insurance purposes does not include entering quarantine or contracting the disease that is the subject of a public health emergency.

This legislation has an emergency clause and takes effect upon the Governor’s signature.

  • ESSB 5229, concerning health equity continuing education for health care professionals. This legislation requires that health care professionals take continuing education on health equity every four years beginning January 1, 2024. The Department of Health, in collaboration with boards and commissions, will create model rules. The amount of CE and whether it will be included within the current 24 hours required for LMTs, will be determined by the Board of Massage. AMTA-WA supported this legislation, and will advocate for including health equity CE within the current 24 hours.
  • SSB 5254, concerning the use of protective devices and equipment during a public health emergency. This legislation states that an employer who does not require employees to wear specific personal protective equipment (PPE), must accommodate an employee’s or contractor’s voluntary use of specific PPE, during a public health emergency when other conditions are met. AMTA-WA knows that being allowed to use PPE was a concern for some LMTs early on the pandemic, and AMTA-WA supported this legislation.

Governor signed. The legislation takes effect April 26, 2021.

  • SSB 5271, amending the necessary elements of proof of injury during the state of emergency declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This agreed upon legislation between providers and the trial bar establishes specific factors that must be considered in a civil action when determining whether a health care provider followed the required standard of care during the period of the COVID-19 state of emergency.

This legislation has an emergency clause and takes effect upon the Governor’s signature.

  • E2SSB 5399, concerning the creation of a Universal Health Care Commission. This legislation establishes a permanent Universal Health Care Commission to create immediate and impactful changes in Washington’s health care access and delivery system and to prepare the state for the creation of a health care system that provides coverage and access through a universal financing system. It’s a tall order! The legislation, as amended in the House acknowledges that structural changes in health care delivery are unlikely to occur without legislation at the federal level. AMTA-WA will monitor the work of the Commission.