Some of the cuts in compensation for injured workers that were proposed by the Oklahoma Senate in February were rolled back in a House version unveiled Thursday.
Larger cuts in other areas keeps anticipated savings under the proposed overhaul about the same level.
The new version of Senate Bill 1062 maintains a transition to an administrative system and continues to allow employers to opt out of the system altogether, but it's a “kinder, friendlier” version of the old one, said Rep. Leslie Osborn, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which will pick up the bill April 9.
At 316 pages, it's also 56 pages longer.
“We wanted to make sure we had something that was good for Oklahoma businesses but we didn't want to do it on the backs of injured workers,” said Osborn, R-Mustang.
The new version of the bill, among other things, restores benefits for widows and amputees to current levels, extends the amount of time an injured worker can file a claim from three days back to 30, and reinstates compensation rights for volunteer firefighters and members of the Oklahoma National Guard.
It also streamlines the transition from the current court-based compensation system to an administrative one, allowing current court judges to continue to work existing claims until their terms expire.
But the new bill would balance a decrease in cost savings anticipated by these reinstatements with even further cuts to the most common claim filed in the system — permanent partial disability.
The Senate version of the workers' comp bill cut the duration a worker could collect compensation for a permanent but non-incapacitating injury from 500 to 450 weeks. The House version shaves that down to 375 weeks.
“Because of the cuts to the middle some of the cuts the Senate had made in the original version were not that much of a cost driver,” Osborn said “From what they told us, we should be very close to the same (cost) scoring the Senate bill had.”
Backers said the new proposition would keep true to the fundamental focus of the overhaul — reduced system costs and a system that would get injured employees back to work more quickly.
Mike Seney, a senior policy analyst for the State Chamber of Oklahoma, said cost savings are still anticipated in excess of $200 million under the new version of the bill.
“It does get rid of our court-based system and go through an administrative system, which Oklahoma employers have been working toward and stating that we needed for years now,” Seney said. “It's a good bill.”
Critics, however, maintain the bill — both the initial and the revised versions — protects employers and doctors by dumping long-held rights held by the state's workers.
“This is all about special interests wanting their way,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City.
“What's the difference between a court judge and an administrative judge except in this case the workers will not have an advocate?”