Okla. Lawmaker Pushing Workers’ Comp Reform

January 25, 2005

Freshman Oklahoma lawmaker, State Rep. Ryan McMullen, D-Burns Flat, recently filed several proposals addressing workers’ compensation reform in that state.

McMullen announced the introduction of three bills he believes will significantly reduce the cost of workers’ compensation insurance. McMullen is the former director of the El Reno Chamber of Commerce and Development Corporation.

The Burns Flat Democrat’s reform package includes House Bill 1439, which would provide a $1,000 income tax deduction to companies that utilize the Labor Department’s Safety Pays program. The tax incentive is designed to encourage businesses to participate in voluntary inspections in which Labor Department consultants help improve workplace safety and avoid potential fines from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Proponents of Safety Pays, such as McMullen and Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau, cite the program’s track record of lowering participants’ workers’ compensation costs by 80 percent or more.

“We can no longer allow this program to be such a well kept secret,” McMullen stated. “We should give the Commissioner and the Department the tools they need to encourage more Oklahoma businesses to experience Safety Pays’ cost savings.”

McMullen’s reform package also includes House Bill 1440, a proposal that would ensure the confidentiality of forms filed by individuals claiming workplace injury.

The Democratic lawmaker believes there is an increasing problem with a small group of “unscrupulous attorneys” prospecting with the forms to try and drum up business through individuals who would otherwise receive a fair settlement without extensive litigation.

One of McMullen’s constituents, Terry Morse, owner of the Elk City-based manufacturer Superior Fabrication, saw the percentage of workers’ comp claimants retaining an attorney increase from 20 percent to 60 percent in the last year.

“All indications are that a few attorneys are abusing their access to the forms and promising jackpot settlements,” Morse said. “Workers’ comp is paying the settlement now, but I know we’re all going to be paying it later.

“The legislation ensures injured workers will continue to have access to the courts when needed, but they won’t be bombarded by legal solicitations,” McMullen said. “This will no doubt reduce the amount of litigation and drive down the cost of the system.”

McMullen has also authored legislation to increase the penalties for filing fraudulent workers’ comp claims.

“I don’t believe we can truly get a handle on these costs, unless we crack down on those filing fraudulent claims,” McMullen said. “They do harm to every truly injured worker and small business across this state.”

While he expects to see other workers’ comp proposals, McMullen believes his package should be an integral part of the total reform many legislative leaders are demanding.

“Meaningful workers’ compensation reform should crack down on fraudulent claims, improve workplace safety, have a record of reducing costs, discourage excessive litigation, and continue to protect the rights of legitimately injured workers,” McMullen said. “Combined these pieces of legislation do each of those things, and I believe will have a noticeable impact on the success of Oklahoma business.”

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