Legislation unveiled last week would bring significant changes to the state's workers' compensation system. Current law is based on measures approved in 2011, but the proposed law would undo that court-based system and build from the ground up a new administrative one. Here are the major differences between the current and proposed laws:
• The 10 judges who currently hear workers' comp cases would be replaced by a panel of law judges, each of whom is appointed by a trio of commissioners. The commissioners would be appointed by the governor, subject to Senate approval.
• In the so-called “Oklahoma Option,” qualified employers would be able to opt out of the entire system and instead develop their own employee compensation insurance or develop a compact system with other employers. The “option” would require employers, however, to provide the same level of benefits as under the statutory program.
• An arbitration system is built into the new law that would allow for many compensation disputes to be resolved in mediation and without ever going before an administrative judge.
• Language in the proposed legislation would reduce the window to file a claim from two years to one and would require “cumulative injury” claims — a type of injury that arises from the repetition of traumatic tasks — to be filed within 90 days of the trauma's manifestation instead of within two years of the last day of employment.