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Oklahoma legislative leaders optimistic about tax cut, workers' comp laws

Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican legislative leaders say they are committed to reducing the personal income tax and overhauling the workers' compensation system.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT Modified: April 15, 2013 at 2:02 am •  Published: April 15, 2013

Although a House committee last week passed SB 1062, the measure likely won't be taken up anytime soon by the full House, Shannon said.

“We've still got some cleanup changes we may need to do, so it's probably headed to conference at this point,” he said.

Changes in SB 1062 restored some of the cuts in compensation for injured workers that were proposed in the original measure.

Inman said any cost savings in the bill would be brought about by reducing medical benefits to injured workers; he said some injured workers will get 30 percent less benefits.

Temporary total disability payments now are based on 100 percent of the state's average weekly wage.

SB 1062 would reduce that benefit to 70 percent of the average weekly wage to take into account that the compensation is not taxed.

The new version, among other things, also 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.

Inman said passage isn't guaranteed because some lawmakers still are concerned about an opt-out provision in the bill.

Legislators last year failed to advance a proposal that would have allowed certain large businesses to opt out of the workers' compensation system as long as they provided equivalent benefits to injured workers.

The bill fell nine votes shy of the required 51 votes for passage in the 101-member body.

“Over 20 House Republicans voted against an opt-out provision,” he said.

“While this version of the opt-out is slightly different than last year's version, it nevertheless presents the same problem by allowing for large employers to pull out of the workers' comp insurance pool; we believe it will drive up rates for Main Street small businesses.”

Smooth session?

While legislative leaders and the governor have had some rough moments, it has mostly been smooth in the House.

During the past two years, former House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, struggled with constitutional conservative members who last year resorted to working with House Democrats to derail or at least mire down the GOP leadership's measures.

Inman said the improved environment can be attributed partially to a good working relationship between him and Shannon.

“It's been one of the smoothest and less acrimonious sessions that I've ever experienced in my seven years here at the Capitol,” Inman said.

House Democrats are “less than pleased” about the overall number of Democratic bills being heard in the House. Last week, the House Calendar Committee, which decides what measures are to be heard by the full House, approved only two of the 88 measures set for the House floor were authored by Democrats.

None of the bills passed the newly formed House States Rights Committee were heard in the Senate, HB 1412, which would prohibit any city, town or county from adopting or implementing policy recommendations established by the United Nations Agenda 21-sustainable development action plan. Rep. Lewis Moore, chairman of the States' Rights Committee, said he's not upset about the snub the bills his committee received.

“I don't think it's anything personal other than they don't have a like committee armed with people that have perhaps the same degree of concern that we have,” said Moore, R-Arcadia.

“So it's really an education process. We knew it would be tough in the first year to make an impact.”


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