As state Sen. Brian Bingman accepted his election to a second session as leader of the senate, the president pro tem urged his colleagues to “stay the course” on reforming the workers' compensation system, developing a better business climate, seeking tax reductions and funding education mandates.
“My hope, my vision, my challenge to you my fellow senators is: together, let's stay the course,” said Bingman addressing both Democrats and Republicans. “We know that we can do more. We can do more to create an environment for job creation. We can do more to protect the principles of a free market. We can do more to protect Oklahoma's historic businesses and industries that have done so much.”
He said the No. 1 roadblock to those goals is Oklahoma's workers' compensation system. The current system is judicial, with 10 judges presiding over cases where injured workers file claims seeking medical treatment and other costs be paid for by their employers.
“Comprehensive workers' compensation reform is our single greatest challenge,” Bingman said. “What we have is plain to you and it's plain to me: We have a statuesque, inefficient, ineffective, adversarial system, and it's bad for business.”
Bingman has called for a complete change from a judicial system, looking at going to an administrative system instead.
The Republican from Sapulpa has been in the Senate since 2006. He served a single term in the House previously.
He was unanimously elected Tuesday by 46 senators present on organization day — a statutorily defined day to elect leaders and rules for the 54th Legislative session. Lawmakers will reconvene on Feb. 4.
Democratic Senate Leader Sean Burrage nominated Bingman for his position in a nod to bi-partisanship.
But Burrage cautioned that Republicans should be cautious about seeking any tax cuts this year, like the income tax reduction proposed but ultimately defeated during the last session.
“I think that, that is something to be very, very careful of — reducing the state's revenue,” Burrage said.
He added that Democrats have not been included in the working group studying workers' compensation reform.
“I hope we see something early,” he said. “And I hope we see some changes to the system that are actual changes. This is workers' compensation 3.0.”
In May 2011, the governor signed Senate Bill 878 into law, a 220-page bill touted as an overhaul of the workers' compensation system.
Parts of the law were struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, and the business community says Oklahoma remains one of the most expensive states when it comes to workers' compensation insurance rates.