MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

December 16, 2013

New workers' comp law upheld


Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to the state’s new workers’ compensation law Monday, ruling that “the Legislature has exercised proper authority in a matter over which it has the power to act.”

The court handed down the ruling a week after oral arguments in a lawsuit that alleged, among other things, the law amounted to unconstitutional “log-rolling” because it contains multiple subjects in violation of the state’s Constitution’s single-subject rule.

“As all sections of the new law are inter-related and refer to a single subject, workers’ compensation or the manner in which employees may ensure protection against work-related injuries, we disagree with the constitutional challenge to the administrative act on grounds of log-rolling,” the court wrote in its majority opinion.

The law, passed by the Legislature last spring, goes into effect on Feb. 1. It was a top goal for Republican leaders who say the previous system was a detriment to business and industry.

The ruling, however, appears to open the door to possible legal challenges on other grounds.

“Until such time as a case or controversy or a justiciable issue is presented to this court, we are without jurisdiction to rule further with regard to this act,” the opinion said.

Justice John Reif of Skiatook said in a separate opinion that most challenges should be decided by the new Workers’ Compensation Commission before they reach the courts.

“In a few cases, however, there are provisions that are unconstitutional on their face,” Reif wrote.

The law changes Oklahoma’s court-based system to an administrative one. Supporters say the change will dramatically reduce workers’ compensation costs, but opponents have said any savings will come at the expense of injured workers.