OKLAHOMA'S workers' compensation system has been in need of repairs for decades. The Legislature is close to making them with a bill that would scrap the judicial model and replace it with an administrative system.
To hear House Democrats tell it, though, little if anything needs fixing. The current system, which has Oklahoma employers paying the sixth-highest work comp rates in the country, is just dandy. And of course, any effort to change it is nothing more than an assault on Oklahoma workers.
“The winners were the biggest, wealthiest corporations in this state,” proclaimed Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, after the House approved Senate Bill 1062. Class warfare is a tried and true rhetorical tool for Democrats, and Morrissette is one of its most ardent users.
Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, has only been at the Capitol a few years but is learning quickly: “All of the savings of this bill,” she said, “are coming out of the pockets of injured workers, those ordinary, everyday, hardworking people who don't have a lobbyist up here.” These remarks came in a press release funded by taxpayers who don't have a lobbyist “up here” to stop such shenanigans.
Among other things, the bill will allow permanent partial disability payments to be deferred if a worker can return to work at the same (or equivalent) job at the same pay. Currently, workers can return to the same job at the same pay after also being awarded large workers' comp payments.
Those judgments stem from a highly litigious system in which cases can be drawn out for months and sometimes years, involving doctors, attorneys, insurance companies and judges. All too often, the size of the awards relates to whether the judge was appointed by a Republican or Democratic governor. And awards overall have increased significantly during the past many years, even as the number of claims filed has gone down.