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Senate unveils workers' compensation overhaul bill

An Oklahoma Senate leadership bill to abolish the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court and replace it with an administrative system for compensating injured workers was unveiled Monday to a chorus of cheers and jeers.
by Randy Ellis Published: February 18, 2013

Fred Morgan, president of the State Chamber of Oklahoma, praised the legislation, saying it would “help reduce costs, get workers timely, quality medical care and make Oklahoma more competitive economically with our surrounding states.”

Robinson said there are many provisions in the bill she likes, including language that creates an administrative system, wording that allows qualified employers to opt out and offer alternative systems, and language that creates an arbitration system that would allow many disputes to be resolved without even going before an administrative law judge.

Jimmy Curry, president of the Oklahoma State AFL-CIO labor union, said he has studied the Arkansas administrative system and doesn't see much savings in it other than cuts in benefits to injured workers.

Burke agreed. He said the proposed bill contains substantial benefit cuts for workers who are partially or totally disabled, as well as cuts in benefits to widows of workers who are killed.

He also objected to a provision in the bill that he said would eliminate workers' compensation for “cumulative trauma injuries, including carpal tunnel, from the use of keyboards or video terminals.”

“I do not believe that good Oklahoma employers want to cut benefits this much for their injured workers who suffer legitimate injuries and widows who must pick up the pieces after their husband's death,” he said.

Administrative system

The bill would create an administrative system that would be governed by three commissioners. Commissioners would be appointed by the governor, subject to Senate approval, to staggered six-year terms. Commissioners would appoint administrative law judges to hear and decide claims.

A Workers' Compensation Fraud Investigation Unit within the Oklahoma Insurance Department would be formed, with the director to be appointed by the state attorney general.

The bill calls for compensation for workers injured on or after Jan. 1, 2014, to be decided under the new administrative system.

The Workers' Compensation Court would be abolished on that date, and a four-judge Court of Existing Claims would be appointed by the governor to hear and decide then-pending claims.

The Court of Existing Claims would hear cases until Nov. 1, 2017, when any older claims still open would be “sent to the district courts of Oklahoma or Tulsa County for hearing without a jury.”

The district court judges would be required to make rulings based on workers' compensation laws in effect at the times of the injuries.

by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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