A proposed change to how Oklahoma employees are compensated for on-the-job injuries now awaits only the governor's signature.
A reconciled version of Senate Bill 1062, which would transition the state's workers' compensation system from a court-based one to an administrative one, passed the Senate on Tuesday after about an hour of discussion and debate.
A spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin said she likely will sign the bill later this week or next.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, who earlier championed the workers' comp change as the top legislative priority for the year, said Tuesday's vote was the “single most important achievement to come out of the state Capitol in years.”
“Replacing our broken workers' compensation court is historic, and the benefits of what we've done here today will be felt by Oklahomans for generations to come,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa.
Starting Feb. 1, new workers' comp claims would be filed before an administrative body comprised of three commissioners instead of before the current court of 10 judges.
Employers would have the option to set up their own compensation plan, and payouts to injured workers would be altered significantly — and in some cases reduced.
Oklahoma employers currently pay out nearly $1 billion in annual premiums and premium equivalents under the workers' compensation system — the sixth-highest in the nation.
At least one analysis estimates cost savings under the new bill to be a minimum of $125 million.
“By finally putting the brakes on the runaway costs of Oklahoma's comp system, our state is sending a clear and unmistakable signal to job creators,” Bingman said. “Now they know we're serious about getting these costs under control.”
But the legislation has not been without critics, and with the exception of one Republican, the vote on Tuesday was squarely along party lines.
Sen. Harry Coates said he broke party ranks because he believes the proposed cuts will benefit the business interests in Oklahoma at a cost to workers' rights.
“What it says is we care about the employer more than we care about the employee,” said Coates, R-Seminole.
Democratic critics in the Senate and House said the proposed bill does not address medical costs, which comprise almost half of total system costs.