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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
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The original version cut the duration a worker could collect permanent partial disability payments from 500 to 450 weeks. The new version reduces it to 375 weeks.

The bill, among other things, restores benefits for widows and amputees to current levels, extends the amount of time an injured worker can file a claim from three days back to 30, and reinstates compensation rights for volunteer firefighters and members of the Oklahoma National Guard.

The measure also calls for injured workers to get their payment within three days, compared with seven days under current law, Echols said.

“I know that seems like a small number unless you're the one that needs the money,” he said.

Morrissette scolded lawmakers who didn't read the 316-page bill, saying workers' compensation benefits affect thousands of Oklahomans every year. He said workers' compensation benefits are vital for family members of the injured worker.

“That compensation is used to pay for the family, to pay the rent, mortgage, food, clothing,” he said. “There's been some concept that somehow workers' compensation recovery for injured workers is some sort of a boon to people that are fraudulently collecting money and scamming the system.”

Osborn said Oklahoma companies pay the sixth- highest workers' compensation rates in the country. Oklahoma is just one of two states, she said, with a judicial compensation system, which tends to drag out cases, which drives up costs for employers and often delays employees in returning to work.

“The current system is antiquated,” she said. “Overall it encourages litigation.”

SB 1062 will encourage mediation, worker rehabilitation and quick results for injured workers, Osborn said.

Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, argued against the opt-out provision in the bill, saying workers who dispute compensation awards could end up going to federal court to appeal.

Morrissette tried to lure Republicans to vote against the measure by saying that provision could be called “Obamacomp,” a play on the word Obamacare that is used by critics of the national health care law. He said it is an appropriate term because removing some employers from a state workers' compensation system to one that falls under federal rules could be compared with the national health care law supported by Democratic President Barack Obama.