Workers’ compensation bills advance to House

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 19-Apr-2010

The state Senate today (Monday, April 19) passed three measures seeking reform of the state Workers’ compensation system. The measures gained comfortable bipartisan majorities, but attracted opposition from a cluster of determined Democrats.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, sponsor of House Bills 1611, 2652 and 2659, said the bills would not only protect rights of Oklahoma workers, but also move Oklahoma toward a more business-friendly climate.

Pro Tem Coffee said the system “has been in need of reform for years. Oklahomans deserve a system that is fair and efficient and protects the rights of injured workers.” House Bill 2652 is the omnibus Worker’s Compensation bill and includes the following:

•                Defines “major cause” and “compensable injury”;

•                Exempts employers from liability for injuries arising outside the course of employment;

•                Requires the Administrator of the Worker’s Compensation Court to hire a vocational rehabilitation director;

•                Improves Oklahoma’s treatment guidelines by establishing the American Medical Association’s guidelines as the criteria for compensation.

H.B. 2652, the key measure, passed 31-16. Yes votes were cast by Cliff Aldridge of Midwest City, Patrick Anderson of Enid, Don Barrington of Lawton, Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, Cliff Branan of Oklahoma City, Randy Brogdon of Owasso, Bill Brown of Broken Arrow, Sean Burrage of Claremore, Harry Coates of Seminole, Glenn Coffee of Oklahoma City, Brian Crain of Tusa, John Ford of Bartlesville, Earl Garrison of Muskogee, Jay Paul Gumm of Durant, James Halligan of Stillwater, Tom Ivester of Elk City, Connie Johnson of Oklahoma City, Mike Johnson of Kingfisher, Clark Jolley of Edmond, Ron Justice of Chickasha, Todd Lamb of Edmond, Bryce Marlatt of Woodward, David Myers of Ponca City, Dan Newberry of Tulsa, Jonathan Nichols of Norman, Susan Paddack of Ada, Jim Reynolds of Oklahoma City, Steve Russell of Oklahoma City, Mike Schultz of Altus, Gary Stanislawski of Tulsa and Anthony Sykes of Moore.

Burrage, Garrison, Gumm, Ivester, Connie Johnson and Paddack are Democrats. The remaining yes votes came from Republicans.

On H.B. 2652, the no votes, all cast by Democrats, came from Tom Adelson of Tulsa, Roger Ballenger of Okmulgee, Randy Bass of Lawton, Kenneth Corn of Poteau, Johnnie Crutchfield of Ardmore, Mary Easley of Tulsa, Judy Eason McIntyre of Tulsa, Jerry Ellis of Valliant, Charlie Laster of Shawnee, Debbe Leftwich of Oklahoma City, Richard Lerblance of Hartshorne, Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City, John Sparks of Norman, Joe Sweeden of Pawhuska, Jim Wilson of Tahlequah, and Charles Wyrick of Fairland.

H.B. 1611 allows individuals who have had surgery for soft tissue injury due to a physician recommendation to petition the Court to extend their benefits. In addition, extended benefits are terminated if surgery is not recommended or is recommended but not performed. The provisions in the bill prevent employees from permanent impairment benefits unless medical evidence exists of a permanent anatomical abnormality.

House Bill 2659 creates the position of Medical Director of the Worker’s Compensation Court, and requires the Medical Director to have a medical license in order to serve. H.B. 2659 also lays out the duties of the Director, which is generally to oversee the medical maintenance of claimants.

Coffee said several stakeholders have participated in communication on this bill, including those in the business, medical and legal communities.  He commended Representative Dan Sullivan, a Tulsa Republican, on his work with this legislation, and applauded the bipartisan support of each bill.

“The Oklahoma Legislature took a strong stand today that will aid in developing accountability and efficiency within the Workers’ Compensation system,” said Coffee. All three bills are now headed to the state House for final consideration. 

NOTE: CapitolBeatOK Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.