Proposal to Overhaul N.D. Workers’ Comp Board Rejected by Legislature

February 14, 2007

North Dakota’s workers’ compensation agency has promised to address the management shortcomings highlighted in a recent state audit by next month, its legislative defenders say.

The North Dakota House this week staved off a second attempt to restore the governor’s authority to appoint the state’s workers’ compensation director. Representatives voted 60-33 to reject HB1323,
a proposal to allow the governor, rather than an appointed board, to hire the top administrator for the Workforce Safety and Insurance agency.

Obviously there are always things that need to be improved in any organization, but I think we have made some real good improvements,” said Rep. Wes Belter, R-Leonard. “I do not think that this bill would change things for the good.”

The North Dakota Senate rebuffed a similar bill last month. Instead, senators favored legislation to allow North Dakota’s attorney general, agriculture commissioner and insurance commissioner to review candidates for WSI’s board rather than leaving the board itself with control over new appointments.

Two separate audits of the agency last year detailed significant management and employee morale difficulties at WSI, which administers insurance and rehabilitation programs for workers who are injured on the job.

“The best way to fix workers’ comp is to fix it at its core, and its core is the organization,” said Rep. Steve Zaiser, D-Fargo. “I think it’s deeply flawed, because there is no real accountability.”

Rep. Merle Boucher, D-Rolette, the House minority leader, said there was “a tremendous amount of chaos” at the agency.

“There’s turnover in the staff. There’s dissatisfaction out amongst the general public, with the working people that it’s supposed to represent,” Boucher said.

Republicans opposed the overhaul, saying that under the agency’s present structure, it is in better financial condition and does a better job of processing claims.

Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, said state workers’ compensation administrators were in the process of implementing recommendations made by the state performance audit, which was published late last year.

“This is no time to impact the workers of North Dakota, the injured workers, in a negative way,” Keiser said.

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