Parts of a bill proposing to change Oklahoma's workers' compensation court system to an administrative system are “blatantly unconstitutional,” the minority leader of the House of Representatives said Thursday.
If passed in its present form, Senate Bill 1062, which is to be heard by a House committee, would violate the state's constitution by sending open claims after Nov. 1, 2017, to the district courts of Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City. These courts do not handle workers' compensation cases now.
“Once those cases have been filed under the current judicial system, to then take those out we believe violates the constitutional rights of those injured workers,” he said.
Open claims before that date would go to a newly formed court of existing claims.
While outnumbered 72-29 in the House, Democrats might be joined in their opposition by some constitutional conservative Republican House members, Inman said. Measures need 51 votes to pass the House.
“We hope that there are enough of us from both parties with good common sense can defeat that bill,” he said.
House Democrats mainly oppose the measure because savings from the bill would come mostly from reducing benefits to injured workers, Inman said.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, has said he generally supports the measure, but the House will take its time with the measure to look at how the bill would reduce compensation benefits available to injured workers. If changes are made to the bill in the House, it would have to return to the Senate.
Backers say SB 1062 would bring system costs and compensation benefits in line with neighboring states. Savings would come, they say, by going to an administrative system instead of the present adversarial court system, which can lead to delays in cases. The State Chamber said Oklahoma ranks as the sixth-highest in workers' compensation benefits awarded to injured workers.
Inman called SB 1062 a “Trojan horse for rolling back significant workers' benefits.”
Nathan Atkins, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, the author of the measure, said the bill is a good product and would withstand “any kind of constitutional challenge.”