Legislation unveiled last week would bring significant changes to the state's workers' compensation system. Current law is based on measures approved in 2011, but the proposed law would undo that court-based system and build from the ground up a new administrative one. Here are the major differences between the current and proposed laws:
• The 10 judges who currently hear workers' comp cases would be replaced by a panel of law judges, each of whom is appointed by a trio of commissioners. The commissioners would be appointed by the governor, subject to Senate approval.
• In the so-called “Oklahoma Option,” qualified employers would be able to opt out of the entire system and instead develop their own employee compensation insurance or develop a compact system with other employers. The “option” would require employers, however, to provide the same level of benefits as under the statutory program.
• An arbitration system is built into the new law that would allow for many compensation disputes to be resolved in mediation and without ever going before an administrative judge.
• Language in the proposed legislation would reduce the window to file a claim from two years to one and would require “cumulative injury” claims — a type of injury that arises from the repetition of traumatic tasks — to be filed within 90 days of the trauma's manifestation instead of within two years of the last day of employment.
• Claims owed to workers who suffer permanent total disability would be changed from a formula that calls for 70 percent of the employee's average weekly wage until they reach Social Security age or for 15 years, whichever is longer, to one that provides a lump sum of 70 percent of average weekly wage for 450 weeks, or a little more than eight and a half years.
• The proposed law would reduce employee notification of injury to employers from 30 to three days.
• The proposed law would reduce the amount of time an injured employee could collect disability compensation from 156 weeks to 104 weeks, would limit claims for work-related mental injury to 26 weeks and would dictate permanent partial disability benefits could only be collected in cases when an injured worker is unable to return to work.
• The 2011 legislation was set forth in a bill 149 pages long. The current proposal, Senate Bill 1062, totals 260 pages.