Cat's in the Cradle
Jun 13, 2018


U.S. drug policy continues to take center stage this week, as the U.S. lawmakers seek to address marijuana legalization and opioid reform before the close of the 115th Congress.



Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, bipartisan marijuana reform legislation that would give states the right to determine the best approach to marijuana legalization within their borders. The measure would amend the Controlled Substances Act of 1971 (CSA) to protect people who choose to use marijuana, so long as they comply with local, state, or tribal laws. The bill would also affirm that compliant marijuana transactions are not considered trafficking and would remove industrial hemp from the list of substances prohibited under the CSA.



Reporters on the ground at G7 Summit in Canada this weekend asked President Trump about the STATES Act. The President's response: "We're looking at it. But, I probably will end up supporting that, yes." Mr. Trump's view is at odds with a move his administration took this year that instructed federal prosecutors to more aggressively enforce federal laws against the use of marijuana in states that have decriminalized it.



In related news, we expect the House Energy and Commerce Committee will act on more than 50 opioid reform bills this week and next. These measures follow last year's massive appropriation bills, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act, and some $4 billion appropriated in the 2018 Congressional budget. The bills include bipartisan proposals that would: Require federal agencies to develop and distribute pharmacist educational materials; direct the Department of Health and Human Services to create a publicly accessible online collection of nationwide opioid avoidance strategies; and ensure medical professionals have access to a consenting patient's complete health history when making treatment decisions. We'll sit for awhile with these measures as they progress.


Jobs and the Economy


The Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the results of its 2017 survey on the U.S. contingent workforce and alternative workers.  The BLS defined "alternative workers" as independent contractors, people working for temporary and contract staffing agencies, and on-call workers. This population of workers accounted for 10.1% of the workforce in 2017, representing essentially flat growth over the past 12 years. Several academic and private studies have pegged the gig economy to be much, much larger. Industry-funded studies estimate that some 57 million people did independent work over the course of 2017. Meanwhile, the Labor Department is building some suspense around these numbers. The BLS will release data on four supplemental survey questions that were specifically designed to understand the breadth of app-based, on-demand, and gig work this September.



Of additional note in the BLS study, 79% of independent contractors preferred their arrangement over a traditional job. But, 55% of short-term workers would rather have a permanent job. Right on cue, for the first time on record, the number of job openings in the United States exceeded the number of unemployed Americans. The DOL estimates that the number of available jobs in April rose 1 percent to 6.7 million from 6.6 million in March, the most since records began in December 2000. Pundits are watching this trend, which could affect rising wages and benefits across the country.


Making Our Way Around the Country


Oregon's Workers' Compensation Division (WCD) announced that attorney fees will increase by 4.57%. The WCD raises attorney fees to keep pace with the states Average Weekly Wage figures in shadows of the Cascades. With Oregon wages on the rise, the division said the maximum attorney fee will increase to $4,418 for cases in which an attorney successfully challenges unreasonable denials, unreasonable refusals to pay benefits, or unreasonable delays in accepting or denying claims. The revised maximum attorney fee applies to awards issued between July 1 and June 30, 2019.



The Pennsylvania House Labor and Industry Committee voted 16-9 to approve House Bill 1840, a measure designed to correct the deficiencies identified in the state Supreme Court ruling in Protz v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board (Derry Area School District). The Protz decision declared the state's entire impairment rating system unconstitutional. H.B. 1840 would require doctors to use the sixth edition of the American Medical Association's impairment guidelines, instead of simply the "latest version" of the guides, language criticized by the high court earlier this year. The PA General Assembly adjourns June 30, so there is a lot to do.




The Workers' Compensation Research and Evaluation Group (REG) of the Texas Department of Insurance released its annual workers' compensation system report. Of significance, the REG found that 40 percent of new claims each year were claims by those individuals who had at least one previous injury and claim. Among the new claims without a past injury, about 30 percent of them would have a second injury in 10 years. Over the last 20 years, the REG found that 53 percent of all claims and 51 percent of medical costs were associated with multiple injuries. Drilling into industries, the Texas research team found that the re-injury rate was significantly higher for those in public administration and health care industries.



Sunday is Father's Day in the United States. We pause to commend our partners over at Kids' Chance for their tireless work to aid children who have lost a parent in workplace accidents. To those brave Kids' Chance recipients, know you have an entire industry behind you. And, to all the dads out there in our readership, proudly and gratefully including our own, let's have a good time this weekend. From all of us at The Way, Happy Father's Day!


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