Legislation changing the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court from a judicial to an administrative system will be released this week, a key lawmaker says.
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin and Republican leaders in both GOP-controlled legislative chambers are supportive, House Speaker T.W. Shannon said.
“An administrative system is the focus of discussions,” said Shannon, R-Lawton. “We've worked pretty closely with the Senate and the governor's office and the governor has given us the green light to work … together and send a plan. I'm confident it's going to be one she can sign.”
The measure, a product of months of discussions between business and political leaders, also will include an opt-out option for certain companies, he said. “It will be the centerpiece for comprehensive reform.”
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman has called the state's workers' comp system “very adversarial” and told the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce last month he is optimistic lawmakers will change the system to an administrative one.
Bingman's spokesman, Nathan Atkins, said the legislation “is truly a comprehensive, holistic approach to replacing our system. There will be many moving parts to it.”
Atkins said there's also “broad support for the Oklahoma option — an alternative for employers to create their own workers' compensation plan.”
A bill that would have given large employers that option narrowly failed to pass the House last year. “Many of the concerns that we heard at that time have been addressed in the revamped and updated Oklahoma option,” Atkins said.
Fallin's office was less specific.
“The governor believes excessive workers' compensation costs are a barrier to growth for Oklahoma businesses,” press secretary Aaron Cooper said. “The governor supports reforms to the … system that will reduce costs for businesses while also treating injured workers fairly.”
Democratic leaders oppose wholesale workers' comp changes, while changing the system has been a longtime goal for Republican lawmakers. It also is a high priority of The State Chamber as well as Tulsa and Oklahoma City chambers of commerce. An Oklahoma City chamber official said Oklahoma companies pay the sixth-highest workers' compensation rates in the country.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said he agrees changes are needed, but it's premature to make a major overhaul. Fallin and GOP legislative leaders claimed measures passed and signed into law two years ago would reduce rates. Some of those changes are just now taking effect.
“In order to see a precipitous drop in premiums, it may take another two or three years for that to happen,” Inman said, “and we don't want to see a knee-jerk reaction that we may not be able to afford now.”
A workers' compensation claim takes about three years to complete, and some can be reopened 10 years later, he said. If an administrative system is enacted, the current judicial system would have to remain in place to take care of those claims, Inman said.
“You can't offer an entirely new system … that will cost between $5 million and $10 million, if it's anything like the current system,” he said. “How can we as a state afford to set up an entirely new … system when for at least a decade or more we're going to have to run a parallel judicial system?”
Inman said it would be more effective to work to control medical costs of the workers' compensation system.