MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 26, 2013

State panel delays vote on workers' comp reform


Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A scheduled Oklahoma House committee vote on a massive Republican-backed plan to overhaul the state's workers' compensation system has been delayed to allow legislators more time to review the bill.

Judiciary Committee chairwoman Rep. Leslie Osborn said Tuesday she opted to give committee members and the bill's Senate sponsors more time — because the legislation's latest version was completed Monday night. She stressed that the delay didn't mean the legislation was in trouble and predicted the committee would reconsider it next week.

"You hate to drop a 260-page document on people," she told The Associated Press. "We want to make sure we've addressed everything."

The lengthy proposal would scrap Oklahoma's judicial compensation system and replace it with an administrative system run by three governor-appointed commissioners. It aims to phase out the current court-run system by 2017.

Senate and House Republicans say it will save money for businesses and state agencies and have made it one of their highest priorities this session, but Democrats have recently said some parts of the bill related to the planned phase-out are unconstitutional.

Three amendments to the bill were filed Monday. Two are mostly grammatical, but the most substantial amendment would let businesses worth at least $5 million choose to be exempt from the state's administration system and run their own workers' compensation program, as long as they follow specific rules.

For example, the amendment requires that benefits provided by these individual plans equal the state's system, including full coverage of medical costs incurred from injuries on the job and somewhat reduced pay for up to three years if an employee is temporarily unable to work because of those injuries.