Legislation streamlining workers’ compensation passes House
Legislative Staff Release
Legislation intended to improve Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system for injured workers and reduce costs for employers passed the House today.
The four bills comprise a bipartisan agreement that was negotiated over the course of this legislative session with House and Senate leaders, the executive branch and other stakeholders.
The package includes House Bill 2650, House Bill 2652, House Bill 1611 and Senate Bill 1973. Together, it is estimated the bills would save businesses in the state at least $60.5 million.
Reforms included will:
• Cap the Partial Payment Disability (PPD) rate at $323/week for five years
• Limit Permanent Total Disability to 100 percent Social Security retirement age or 15 years, whichever is longer
• Increase the power of the Physician Advisory Council and require the court to follow its recommendations unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary
• Reduce the number of Workers’ Compensation Court judges from ten to eight
• Require five judges to be permanently assigned to Oklahoma City and three to Tulsa
• State that the next two positions to become vacant after July 1, 2010, shall not be refilled
• Restrict judges to one eight-year term
• Allow a former judge to reapply after three years off the Court
• Require current judges to go back through the Judicial Nominating Commission if they want to reapply
• Require Senate confirmation on any Workers’ Compensation judge
• Require any Workers’ Compensation judge to have not less than five years of workers’ compensation experience
• Tighten up definitions of “major cause” and “objective medical evidence”
• Allow the Sup court review workers comp claims just like any other civil case
• Require that the claimant shall be in attendance unless all parties agree, and all parties shall be represented during the entire mediation by a person with full settlement authority to settle any issue of the claim
• Require all claims adjusters to have six hours of continuing education on Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation act as part of the required twenty-four hours of continuing education
• Further define what is a work-related activity for purposes of being covered under the workers’ comp act
• Clarify light-duty work and the employee’s refusal to participate
• Set up a task force to look at vocational rehabilitation for injured workers
• Unless recommended by the treating doctor at the time claimant reaches maximum medical improvement, Continuing Maintenance Medical shall not be awarded by the Workers’ Compensation Court unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary
• Tighten up benefits for soft tissue injuries
• Provide for early mailing of a notice that will notify workers of free counseling services offered by the workers’ comp court
• Define an intentional tort that will allow a lawsuit to be filed in district court rather than in workers’ comp court
“These reforms are common sense changes that will improve fairness in the system for workers while also driving down costs for Oklahoma employers,” said Sullivan, a Tulsa Republican who is chairman of the House Economic Development Committee. “Cost reductions within the system will help spur economic growth and development in our state and will inevitably create jobs.”
Workers’ compensation reform is one of the top priorities this legislative session for House and Senate Republicans.
“This legislation will put our state in a position to be more economically competitive. There has been a lot of anxiety because of our budget situation this year, which has been tough. But, we definitely don’t want to be so focused on this year’s budget alone that we fail to position our state to grow in the future,” said House Speaker Chris Benge of Tulsa, also a Republican.
“We are trying to create an environment where we can contain costs within the system and also take care of the injured worker at the same time. I think this reform accomplishes both of those goals.”
H.B. 2650 passed the House with a vote of 84-10; H.B. 2652 passed with a vote of 66-31; H. B. 1611 passed with a vote of 96-0 and will all return to the Senate for final consideration. S. B. 1973 passed the House with a vote of 71-22 and now goes to the governor for final review.