Oklahoma Supreme Court upholds new workers' compensation law

A new workers' compensation law replaces Oklahoma's judicial workers' compensation law.
BY RANDY ELLIS rellis@opubco.com Modified: December 16, 2013 at 8:46 pm •  Published: December 17, 2013

The Oklahoma Supreme Court on Monday upheld the constitutionality of Oklahoma's new workers' compensation law, sparking jubilation among many Oklahoma government and business leaders.

“The Supreme Court acted properly today in upholding the constitutionality of Oklahoma's workers' compensation reforms,” Gov. Mary Fallin said. “I am excited the state can move forward with improvements that will help to encourage job growth and investment in Oklahoma while delivering on a more efficient, effective and fairer workers' compensation process.”

Fred Morgan, president of The State Chamber of Oklahoma, called Monday's ruling “a big victory.”

“Today's decision is obviously very good news for the business community,” Morgan said. “We hope the new law can be implemented promptly.”

The Supreme Court ruled that the new law does not violate a constitutional prohibition against covering multiple subjects in a single bill.

However, three justices did express concerns about opt-out provisions in the law. They indicated those opt-out provisions may not pass constitutional muster if future constitutional challenges are made once administrative rules have been developed and implemented.

Despite those cautions, backers of the new law clearly were thrilled by Monday's ruling.

“These reforms create a new and modern system that protects workers and is fair to Oklahoma businesses,” said House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton. “The archaic and confrontational system this state has relied on in the past did little for workers, hurt business and only benefited the handful that profited from such a dysfunctional system. This ruling ensures Oklahoma is moving in the right direction.”

The new law phases out the state's judicial workers' compensation system and replaces it with an administrative system which will go into effect in February of 2014.

The new law also authorizes employers to opt out of the state system as long as they provide equivalent benefits to injured workers.

Opponents challenged the law on multiple grounds, but the Supreme Court's majority opinion focused on the allegation that the new law could violate a constitutional prohibition against covering multiple subjects in a single bill — a practice commonly referred to as logrolling.

The court rejected that claim.

“As all sections of the new law are interrelated and refer to a single subject, workers' compensation or the manner in which employees may ensure protection against work-related injuries, we disagree with the constitutional challenge to the Administrative Act on grounds of logrolling,” justices wrote in the majority opinion.

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