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The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state of Washington on Monday over a presumption law passed earlier this year that cleared red tape in the workers compensation system for people suffering from cancer and other ailments after working at the 75-year-old Hanford nuclear site.
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Washington, claims that the law discriminates against the federal government and its Energy Department contractors and is asking for an injunction. The suit also names Gov. Jay Inslee, the Washington Department of Labor & Industries and department Director Joe Sacks as defendants.
The justice department’s suit makes good on a threat made in a letter dated Oct. 31 to the state, pledging to sue over H.B. 1723, signed into law in March.
H.B. 1723 makes it easier for workers past and present to file compensable claims for a number of illnesses, including various cancers, suffered by working within the confines of the 560-square-mile federally operated and decommissioned nuclear site since it opened in 1943 during World War II. Hanford workers helped manufacture the plutonium used in one of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.
The law, which went into effect June 7, establishes presumption under the state’s workers compensation laws for workers who suffer from heart problems, neurological diseases, respiratory illnesses and specific cancers, including leukemia, lung cancer, bone cancer, kidney cancer, lymphoma and other cancers affecting more than a dozen body parts, according to the latest draft.
Monday’s lawsuit alleges “HB 1723 interferes with these ongoing federal operations by fundamentally changing how the (Washington Industrial Insurance Act) applies to federally owned and operated portions of Hanford but not to anywhere else in the State. Specifically, the law creates a legal presumption that past, current, and future ‘United States [D]epartment of [E]nergy Hanford site workers,’ as defined under the law, are entitled to workers compensation benefits if they develop certain diseases or conditions without having to demonstrate, as the WIIA otherwise requires, that their conditions were more likely than not caused by their employment at Hanford.”
The suit also claims that “the resulting heightened liability for workers compensation, and attendant costs, that HB 1723 imposes on (Department of Energy) and its contractors are not imposed on other employers elsewhere at Hanford or elsewhere in the State. This impermissible discrimination against the Federal Government and its contractors and purported direct regulation of the Federal Government violate the Supremacy Clause.”
The governor’s office nor officials with the Department of Labor & Industries could be reached for comment Wednesday.
Two U.S. senators are calling for the U.S. Department of Energy to investigate the way workers compensation claims have historically been handled by the department’s third-party administrator at the Hanford nuclear site in Hanford, Washington.