Overhauling Oklahoma's workers' compensation system again will be a top priority in this year's legislative session for The State Chamber, the pro-business group announced Wednesday.
The chamber will back legislation to rewrite workers' compensation laws to move Oklahoma from a judicial system to an administrative one.
“Workers' compensation costs have long been the top concern of our members, no matter large or small businesses, or urban or rural,” said Fred Morgan, president of The State Chamber.
“We have to stop tinkering around the edges with our state's broken workers' compensation system and start over with an administrative approach that has seen much success in lowering rates in other states, all while continuing to protect the workers.”
Republican legislative leaders said earlier they support efforts to change significantly or replace the workers' compensation court system, while Democratic leaders continue to question whether such wholesale changes are needed.
The State Chamber, which has about 1,200 members, also will seek legislation to prioritize education funding for programs and changes to enhance growth, learning and proficiencies to ensure public high school graduates are ready for careers or college.
Legislators last year failed to advance a proposal backed by The State Chamber in which certain large businesses would have been allowed to opt out of the workers' compensation system as long as they provided equivalent benefits to injured workers.
House Democrats last year were able to work with splintering factions of House Republicans to defeat the proposal, which would have allowed mostly large employers to create their own workers' compensation plans. The measure fell nine votes shy of the required 51 votes for passage in the 101-member body.
House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, said last month the 29 members of his caucus aren't ready to commit “to any kind of dramatic overhaul that guts the whole system.”
How it works
Oklahoma has 10 workers' compensation judges. Each judge hears disputed workers' compensation issues, which may be resolved informally at a prehearing or settlement conference, or by a trial. Written orders of the trial judge are final unless appealed to a three-judge review panel of the workers' compensation court, or to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
The State Chamber also supports changing mediation charges so both parties split the fee of any mediator.
The chamber also wants additional civil justice changes, such as restricting lawsuits when a consumer misuses the product and making information more available when the state attorney general's office hires outside attorneys and what it pays them.
As for taxes, The State Chamber supports a corporate income tax reduction and protecting economic development incentives, such as tax credits. The state corporate tax is 6 percent and is estimated to bring in about $321 million of the $6.8 billion legislators appropriated this fiscal year. It also wants to eliminate the franchise tax for small businesses.