Workers comp reform bill passed by state Senate
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Thursday, February 28, 2013
2/28/13 at 8:18 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - The Oklahoma Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would dramatically reduce benefits to people injured on the job in an effort to reel in workers compensation costs.
Senate Bill 1062 by Senate Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, passed 34-12 and heads to the House.
Despite the reduction, benefits would remain at or above the regional average, Bingman said.
The measure would change the court-based system to an administrative one, which supporters say would reduce delays in treatment and get injured workers back on the job more quickly.
An amendment by Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, would have capped what doctors treating injured workers could make. The amendment was tabled on a 34-12 vote.
Burrage said the amendment would have saved $14 million.
A 2011 reform established a fee schedule for doctors, resulting in $37 million in savings, Bingman said.
The bill would reduce the average weekly wage of injured workers to 70 percent from 100 percent, said Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore.
Oklahoma's system gives someone an incentive to get injured on the job, Sykes said, adding that the payments are not subject to taxes.
"In many instances, yes, you actually get a raise if you go on workers compensation," Sykes said.
Sen. John Sparks, R-Norman, questioned the reasoning behind reducing benefits by nearly 25 percent for those who have a body part amputated as a result of an on-the-job injury.
"Is it the view of employers that employees who suffer amputations are somehow making out unfairly at the cost of the rest of us?" Sparks asked.
Sykes said he could not speculate.
Sparks also said the measure unfairly penalizes workers who try to return to work but suffer a setback.
Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Sayre, said there is no guarantee that implementation of the measure would result in reduced premiums.
The bill is supported by the State Chamber.
"We look forward to ending the adversarial nature of the system that often pits employer versus employee so we can instead focus on getting employees quality, timely medical care and back on the job as soon as possible," said Fred Morgan, president of the pro-business organization.
"Our workers comp system is holding our state back economically, and we appreciate the strong stance the state Senate took today toward changing the system so it works better for all of Oklahoma."
Yes votes: Cliff Aldridge, R-Midwest City; Mark Allen, R-Spiro; Don Barrington, R-Lawton; Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa; Larry Boggs, R-Red Oak; Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City; Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate; Rick Brinkley, R-Owasso; Corey Brooks, R-Washington; Bill Brown, R-Broken Arrow; Brian Crain, R-Tulsa; Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow; Kim David, R-Wagoner; Eddie Fields, R-Wynona; John Ford, R-Bartlesville; AJ Griffin, R-Guthrie; Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater; David Holt, R-Oklahoma City; Rob Johnson, R-Yukon; Clark Jolley, R-Edmond; Ron Justice, R-Chickasha; Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City; Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward; Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa; Dan Newberry, R-Tulsa; Mike Schulz, R-Altus; Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee; Wayne Shaw, R-Grove; Ralph Shortey, R-Oklahoma City; Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore; Rob Standridge, R-Norman; Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa; Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, and Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
No votes: Patrick Anderson, R-Enid; Roger Ballenger, D-Okmulgee; Randy Bass, D-Lawton; Sean Burrage, D-Claremore; Harry Coates, R-Seminole; Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant; Earl Garrison, D-Muskogee; Tom Ivester, D-Sayre; Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City; Susan Paddack, D-Ada; Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa; and John Sparks, D-Norman.
Original Print Headline: Senate passes workers comp bill
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465