Senate approves workers comp bill 44-0, Governor Fallin encourages quick House action

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published 10-Mar-2011

The full Senate gave approval to Senate Bill 878 today, a workers compensation bill authored by Sen. Patrick Anderson of Enid, and Sen. Anthony Sykes of Moore, both Republicans.

The bill was crafted in coordination with Governor Mary Fallin’s Workers Compensation Study Group, which included members of the legislature and business professionals from various backgrounds. The proposed reform retains the litigation-orientation of the current system.

The bill was passed by an overwhelming bi-partisan vote of 44-0.

In response to the Senate action, Governor Mary Fallin sent the following statement to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations:

“Our current workers’ compensation system is expensive, inefficient and ultimately drives jobs out of the state of Oklahoma. It is a system that has long been in need of an overhaul. I am extremely pleased to see the Senate has taken action and passed a comprehensive reform bill.

“This plan will create a system that is fair to both workers and employers, lowers costs and helps us in our mission of creating a better environment for business growth and job creation. It is a key step in the job creation agenda I laid out in my State of the State address. I strongly encourage the House to take up this measure as soon as possible, pass it and deliver it to my desk for me to sign into law.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, a Sapulpa Republican, cheered the unanimous vote in the Legislature’s upper chamber, saying:

“We are committed to reducing Oklahoma’s workers compensation rates and making our state more competitive for job creation in every way. This bill is progress towards a goal of making Oklahoma more competitive economically with surrounding states.”

“It is encouraging to see both Republicans and Democrats come together and unanimously recognize this to be such an important issue for Oklahoma,” said Senator Anderson.  “Injured workers are better served by a system that resolves their case quickly and provides the coverage and care it is designed to give.”

Anderson asserted that S.B. 878 is a comprehensive approach to workers compensation reform.  He added that costs go down when workers are treated, rehabilitated and able to return to work.

Bingman said that workers comp reform needs to be able to address the many different cost drivers that have resulted in an unacceptably high rate for Oklahoma payers.

According to legislative staff, a summary of major provisions in the bill include:

• Swift resolution to cases, requiring the judge to render decision within 60 days
• Mandatory annual reviews of disability recipients
• Creation of transparency within the court, requiring reports on the judicial process
• Placing more decision making authority in the hands of medical experts
• Encouraging early return to work through rehabilitation

The bill will now move to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

While some observers have questioned if comprehensive reform is possible without shifting the state’s system away from litigation and toward an administrative structure, the advocate of the bill in the state House has defended the reform package that emerged from the Fallin task force.

At a Blue Room event last month that was a rally of sorts, CapitolBeatOK asked state Republican Rep. Dan Sullivan of Tulsa, a key player in workers comp deliberations, if “William Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ ever came up during your deliberations?”

Sullivan chuckled and replied, “We decided not to kill all the lawyers.”

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.