Overhauling Oklahoma's workers' compensation court and replacing it with an administrative system has the support of the governor.
“It's time that we do a major overhaul of our workers' compensation system,” Gov. Mary Fallin said Thursday at a breakfast sponsored by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “We have done some good reforms in the past, but we still know that Oklahoma's ranked among the top states in the nation on workers' compensation premium costs.”
Fallin said it's time for Oklahoma to move to an administrative system “that will help us reduce the adversarial relationship that we have in our workers' compensation system itself, and I think that will be what will lead to a system that will be fair to the injured workers, fair to the employers and help us create a stronger and more vibrant economy.”
The Republican governor said she supports a measure that Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, unveiled this week. Senate Bill 1062 won committee approval and is awaiting action by the full Senate.
Her position Thursday is a contrast to the findings of a panel she appointed shortly after winning election in 2010; the panel, formed to review the workers' compensation system, did not recommend dismantling it and replacing it with an administrative system.
Greater Oklahoma City Chamber officials seemed pleased the governor is backing an administrative system.
“The governor clearly recognizes the challenges Oklahoma businesses face,” said Greater Oklahoma City Chamber Chairman Pete Delaney, chief executive officer of OGE Energy Corp. “Her support of this legislation is critical. Oklahoma businesses don't want part of a solution.”
Fallin said high premium rates are a huge barrier to economic growth in the state.
“Now is the year for the Legislature to send me a major overhaul of our workers' compensation system so we can for once and for all address this issue,” she said, drawing applause from about 250 who attended the breakfast at Oklahoma Christian University.
Bingman's measure, if passed and signed into law, would require that effective Jan. 1 claims for workers' compensation would be heard and decided by a panel of administrative law judges who would be appointed by a trio of commissioners.
Oklahoma, one of two states with a judicial system handling cases of workers hurt on the job, has 10 workers' compensation judges.
House and Senate Democrats have said changes are needed in the workers' compensation system, but it's premature to make a major overhaul. They said measures passed and signed into law two years ago include changes intended to lower premium costs. Those changes are just now taking effect.