Gov. Mary Fallin, with little fanfare, signed a measure into law Monday that drastically changes how Oklahomans are compensated for on-the-job injuries.
The Republican governor, who has sought changes in the workers' compensation system during her nearly 20 years in state politics, said Senate Bill 1062 will reduce costs for businesses. Fallin didn't hold a bill signing ceremony and announced her approval with a news release.
SB 1062 changes the workers' compensation system from a judicial system to an administrative one. It also allows businesses to opt out of the workers' compensation system as long as they provide equivalent benefits to injured workers.
Democrats who opposed the measure said it is unfair to injured workers because it will reduce their benefits.
But Fallin said injured workers will be treated fairly under the new system, which will begin hearing new claims Feb. 1. Other parts of the bill take effect in late August.
“For decades, Oklahoma has had one of the most expensive and inefficient workers' compensation systems in the country, a constant obstacle for business owners looking to expand operations or create more jobs,” Fallin said.
“Senate Bill 1062 completely overhauls our flawed workers' comp system, dramatically reducing the costs to businesses and freeing up private-sector resources that can be invested in jobs rather than lawsuits.”
The State Chamber, which strongly supported SB 1062, said Oklahoma's workers' compensation court system is a hindrance to businesses and a complication for injured workers trying to get quality care in order to return to work.
“Those days are now over,” said Mike Seney, the chamber's senior vice president of policy analysis and strategic planning. “With Governor Mary Fallin's signature of Senate Bill 1062, Oklahoma will now have a more cost-efficient and easier-to-navigate administrative workers' comp system that will be better for the employer and employee alike.”
Democrats during debate on the measure earlier also cautioned that small companies would see their workers' compensation insurance rates increase because bigger companies would choose to opt out of being in the state system.
Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, called the signing of SB 1062 into law historic.
“Oklahoma's runaway workers' compensation court has been the No. 1 roadblock to job growth for decades, and today, we're finally putting the brakes on these costs,” said Bingman, author of the measure. “This bill is especially needed to help us control the year-to-year fluctuation of costs, and to help us compete for good manufacturing jobs while making sure injured workers are treated fairly.”
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, said, Oklahoma “has finally found a modern solution to an old problem.” Oklahoma is one of two states still using a court system.
“For too long, workers and businesses have been subjected to an archaic and inefficient workers' comp system,” said Shannon, the House sponsor of the measure. “This monumental shift from an adversarial judicial system to an administrative system will lower costs for businesses and get injured workers the quick relief they need.”