The Norman Transcript

May 1, 2013

Workers’ comp. overhaul advances

Transcript Staff
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The state Senate moved Tuesday to abolish Oklahoma’s judicial workers’ compensation system.

Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman’s Senate Bill 1062, the Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act, replaces Oklahoma’s adversarial court process with an administrative system.

Oklahoma and Tennessee are the only two states left in the nation currently employing a judicial process for the resolution of workers’ compensation claims.

The Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act passed the Senate by a vote of 35-12 and now heads to Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk.  The measure will become law pending the governor’s signature.

“The implementation of an administrative workers’ compensation system will finally give our state a modern process that will enable injured workers to get treatment and get back to work quicker,” said Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman. “It will also remove a primary roadblock to job growth in our state. Our outdated system is one of the country’s most expensive and has failed us for too long.”

Oklahoma’s court-based system, ranked the sixth most expensive in the country, has been often cited by state business leaders as the single greatest impediment to continued job growth and economic prosperity.

“In a number of surveys, Oklahoma employers have identified our workers’ compensation system as a primary barrier to job growth,” Standridge said.

“Passage of this proposal will finally address this problem with the sort of top-down restructuring we need. I’m grateful that my colleagues came together behind this measure and I look forward to seeing it signed into law.”

Bingman lauded the measure’s passage as a historic moment for the state.

“This is the single most important achievement to come out of the state Capitol in years,” said Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “Replacing our broken workers’ compensation court is historic, and the benefits of what we’ve done here today will be felt by Oklahomans for generations to come. By finally putting the brakes on the runaway costs of Oklahoma’s comp system, our state is sending a clear and unmistakable signal to job creators.

“Now, they know we’re serious about getting these costs under control. We’re serious about offering certainty to small businesses, and we’re serious about attracting good manufacturing jobs back to Oklahoma. Most important of all, our legacy industries know we mean business when we ask them to grow their investment in Oklahoma’s future.”

An independent analysis by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, the nation’s largest provider of workers’ compensation data, predicted Oklahoma could see hundreds of millions of dollars saved every year as a direct result of SB 1062.

Sen. Anthony Sykes, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has worked closely with Pro Tem Bingman to develop SB 1062.  Sen. Sykes presented amendments to the measure on the floor of the Senate and highlighted the need to care for injured workers in a prompt manner.

“Oklahoma’s judicial system hasn’t done a very good job of taking care of injured workers,” said Sykes, R-Moore. “In the future, if you get hurt on the job, there won’t be a trial lawyer standing between you and your doctor. Workers will see better health outcomes, they’ll be receiving care in a timely manner, and they won’t be pitted against their employer in a court room.

“I’m proud of what we’ve done here today, and I look forward to seeing this bill’s positive impact on the future prosperity of Oklahoma.”

Under SB 1062, an administrative workers’ compensation system would be structured with three commissioners appointed by the governor, subject to Senate approval, for six-year staggered terms. The commission will then appoint administrative law judges to hear all claims for compensation.

Not everyone is happy about the bill’s forward momentum.

“This bill literally adds insult to injury,” said Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman. “From cutting weekly Temporary Total Disability maximum payments by 30 percent, when the worker is off work on doctor’s orders and can least afford to be unpaid, to limiting coverage for cumulative trauma, this ‘reform’ finds cost savings almost exclusively by cutting legitimate payments and benefits to legitimately injured workers.”

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