At a glance
Workers' compensation bills propose dramatic changes
Dramatic changes in Oklahoma's workers' compensation system will be considered by the state Legislature this year. Over half of the more than 30 workers' compensation reform bills that have been introduced are shell bills that do not yet have substantive language, but here is a look at some that propose significant changes.
This 239-page bill by state Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, HB 1546, would create a new administrative system governed by a three-member Workers' Compensation Commission. Its members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. The commission would decide cases involving injuries that occur beginning Nov. 1, 2013. The old Workers' Compensation Court would continue to hear cases involving injuries before that date, but would be phased out by 2020 and the judges' jobs would be eliminated.
This bill by state Rep. Arthur Hulbert, R-Fort Gibson, also would create an administrative system, but calls for the system to be a division of the state Insurance Department, which would oversee its operation. Under this proposal, a Commissioner of Workers' Compensation Insurance would be appointed by the governor to administer the system. Senate confirmation would be required for the commissioner.
SB 428 and SB 485
These virtually identical bills by state Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, and state Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, would create a new administrative system governed by a three-member commission, whose members would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. It also would create a workers' compensation fraud investigation unit within the state Insurance Department.
This bill by state Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, would authorize employers who meet certain qualifications to opt out of the state workers' compensation system and adopt their own benefit plans for injured workers. The plans would have to meet certain standards and would be overseen by the state insurance commissioner.
This bill, also by Rep. Moore, among other things, would:
• Cap the length of time an employer could be required to make permanent partial disability payments at 520 weeks.
• Exempt employers from having to pay compensation to workers injured while voluntarily failing to use a safety devises furnished for their protection.
• Cut an injured workers' compensation by up to half if the injury or death was caused, in whole or in part, by the employee's failure to obey any state or federal law enacted for the protection of employees or the public.
State Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, has proposed a law that would exempt employers from having to pay benefits for a worker who tests positive for alcohol, illegal drugs or illegally used chemicals following an accident. The employer also would not have to pay if the injured employee refuses to take a drug or alcohol test. Under current law, employers are exempt from paying in cases where illegal drugs, chemicals or alcohol are deemed the “major cause” of the accident.
Randy Ellis, Staff Writer