OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin announced Wednesday (July 9) that the state has taken another step in the transition from a court-based workers’ compensation system to an administrative workers’ compensation system.
Starting July 1, the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court of Existing Claims began operating as separate, stand-alone agencies.
New workers’ comp claims will be processed only by the commission, as the old court model is gradually phased out.
The changes were called for in sweeping reform legislation, Senate Bill 1062, which was passed and signed into law in 2013.
The move from a judicial system to an administrative system was made to produce a more efficient, less costly and less contentious system.
The new system is designed to treat injured workers quickly and fairly while significantly reducing legal red tape and costs to businesses.
“When our workers are injured, we want them to be fairly compensated and cared for so they can get healthy and back to work as quickly as possible,” said Fallin. “The new administrative system will be less contentious, less costly, and better for both workers and employers.”
Fallin said the old workers’ compensation system was too costly and was ultimately driving jobs out of the state.
“For decades, Oklahoma has had one of the most expensive and inefficient workers' compensation systems in the country, a constant obstacle for businesses looking to expand operations or create more jobs.
Our new system is more efficient, less costly and will ultimately help to create jobs by reducing costs that have been hurting small businesses in Oklahoma for years.”
The State Chamber of Oklahoma has estimated savings from recent workers’ compensation reforms will save Oklahoma businesses $263 million a year.
More on SB 1062 and Workers’ Compensation Reform
The Oklahoma Workers Compensation Commission started operations Feb. 1, according to S.B. 1062. The commission has three members, each appointed by the governor with confirmation required by the Oklahoma Senate.
The legislation also changed the name of the state’s workers’ compensation court to the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Court of Existing Claims. It only deals with cases filed before Feb. 1.
Another part of S.B.1062 took effect July 1 when four judge positions of the 10-member judicial panel were eliminated.
Reducing the number of judges along with more efficient administrative practices put in place by the commission means fewer employees are needed, resulting in additional taxpayer savings. Cost-saving practices include resolving more cases through mediation rather than prolonged trials, using electronic recordings at hearings rather than court reporters and electronically filing documents.
The number of employees needed to run the workers’ compensation system dropped from about 75 to less than 60. Personnel changes took effect Wednesday.
Lawmakers during this year’s session established separate budgets for the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Court of Existing Claims for the 2015 fiscal year, which began July 1. That action put into motion making both stand-alone agencies.
The Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Court of Existing Claims are housed on separate floors at its headquarters in the Denver Davison Building, immediately southwest of the state Capitol. Each will continue to have an office and staff in Tulsa.
The Court of Existing Claims will continue to gradually reduce in size as its case load dwindles. The number of judges, according to S.B. 1062, will be cut to four in 2016.
The court is scheduled to be eliminated in 2020.