Oklahoma House panel approves workers' compensation measure

A measure that would change Oklahoma's workers' compensation court into an administrative system will likely be taken up by the full House.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: April 10, 2013

A revised bill that would significantly change how Oklahoma handles workers hurt on the job won easy passage Tuesday by a House committee despite an hourlong attack by Democrats on the panel.

Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma, called Senate Bill 1062 morally reprehensible and disgusting. But Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said if it would become law, the bill would “be the best thing to happen to Oklahoma in years.”

The committee voted 11-4 along party lines to pass SB 1062. It now goes to the House Calendar Committee, which will decide whether it gets a hearing in the House.

GOP leaders in the Republican-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Mary Fallin have said changing the workers' compensation system is a key priority for them to accomplish before the session ends late next month.

“It's time Oklahoma solves an old problem with a modern solution,” said House Speaker T.W. Shannon, the author of SB 1062. “We need a strong system that protects workers and drives down costs, and I applaud my fellow legislators for taking on this massive effort.”

SB 1062 would replace the court-based system with an administrative one and would allow employers to opt out of the system and provide their own form of coverage.

Changes made

Changes were made by several House members last week to the measure. It now has restored some of the cuts in compensation for injured workers that were proposed in the original measure, which passed the Senate 34-12 in February.

House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, argued that any cost savings in the bill would be brought about by reducing medical benefits to injured workers.

“This system dramatically reduces benefits for people who got hurt by simply doing their job,” he said. “Make no mistake about it.”

Inman said some injured workers will get 30 percent less benefits.

Rep. Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, who presented the bill for Shannon, said temporary total disability payments now are based on 100 percent of the state's average weekly wage. SB 1062 will reduce that benefit to 70 percent of the average weekly wage to take into account that the compensation is not taxed.

“That brings us more in line with every other state,” he said.

Permanent partial disability payments will not change, Echols said.

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