Republican legislative leaders assured Oklahoma City business leaders Thursday that lawmakers, who return to the state Capitol next week, will significantly change or replace the workers' compensation system.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said the state workers' compensation system is the main deterrent to Oklahoma businesses.
“We want to change that this year and I think we can do it,” Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said to more than 500 who attended the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce's legislative breakfast.
The chamber, which represents 5,300 member companies and a workforce of about 250,000, has made changing the state workers' compensation system a high priority. The chamber is seeking significant changes to the system, including switching the system from a judicial system to an administrative one.
“Oklahoma's is a very adversarial system,” Bingman said.
He said he hopes lawmakers “make the leap” and pass legislation that would change the workers' compensation system to an administrative system. Republicans have a commanding advantage in both the House of Representatives and Senate; Republicans outnumber Democrats 72-29 in the House and 36-12 in the Senate.
An Oklahoma City chamber official said Oklahoma companies pay the sixth-highest workers' compensation rates in the country.
“The system that we have today, the incentive is to delay, delay, delay, and so we have cases that just keep going on and on and on,” Bingman said. “That just adds to the medical cost, legal fees.”
Oklahoma is one of two states with a judicial system handling cases of workers hurt on the job. Workers' compensation rates in Arkansas are about half the rates in Oklahoma, Bingman said.
“We want to make sure that we are doing everything on the state level to make sure Oklahoma is competitive,” he said.
Oklahoma has 10 workers' compensation judges. Each judge hears disputed workers' compensation issues, which may be resolved informally at a prehearing or settlement conference, or by a trial. Written orders of the trial judge are final unless appealed to a three-judge review panel of the workers' compensation court, or to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said he agrees changes are needed in the system.
“We see the numbers,” he said. “We know workers' compensation rates are too expensive for our employers.”