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President Joe Biden’s Justice Department is taking over where that of former President Donald Trump left off, challenging a three-year-old Washington state law that calls on the federal government to pay workers compensation costs for employees made ill after working at a long-decommissioned historic nuclear site.
In 2018, the Washington state Legislature passed H.B. 1723, which made it easier for workers at the site in Hanford to gain access to comp benefits for illnesses and cancers suffered after working on the 560-square-mile, federally operated site known for having manufactured the plutonium used in one of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945.
The federal government has fought the law since, arguing that it is a “discriminatory treatment of the federal government and of the firms that employ the federal contract workers” and that it “violates the intergovernmental-immunity principle of the Supremacy Clause” of the Constitution, according to documents in United States v. The State of Washington.
In the latest ruling August 2020, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the law, affirming a 2019 decision in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington. This month, the Justice Department filed its appeal with the Supreme Court, questioning in “(w)hether a state workers compensation law that applies exclusively to federal contract workers who perform services at a specified federal facility is barred by principles of intergovernmental immunity, or is instead authorized by (federal law), which permits the application of state workers compensation laws to federal facilities ‘in the same way and to the same extent as if the premises were under the exclusive jurisdiction of the State.’”
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, questioning Mr. Biden’s support of workers with the latest appeal to the country’s highest court, issued a statement Tuesday on the latest filing:
“The Trump administration attempted to gut Washington’s protections for Hanford workers that get sick on the job… Now the Biden administration is continuing Donald Trump’s cruel effort to eliminate these critical protections for the hardworking men and women at Hanford.”
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.