Seeking to stem the tide of lost jobs and lost hope in Oklahoma, Republican leaders announced their workers’ compensation reform plan at the State Capitol on Jan. 25.
“I have watched many Oklahomans lose hope in recent years, as job opportunities move to other states,” stated Speaker of the House Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville. “We must make significant strides this year. This is a broken system, and it must be fixed.”
Speaker Hiett enters the 2005 session of the 50th Legislature as the first Republican Speaker in Oklahoma in more than 80 years. He was elected to the post in early January, after Republicans gained the House majority in the November 2004 general election.
“I have been here 10 years, and I’ve been frustrated as legislative leaders have failed to accomplish significant progress on this issue,” Hiett said. “We need to stimulate the economy to create more job opportunities and higher wages. I want to pass a real reform measure that helps struggling small businesses and treats injured workers fairly.”
Many Oklahomans are worried about the workers’ comp system. At least 50 percent say the system involves too many lawyers, costs the state jobs and keeps injured workers from getting the benefits they deserve, according to the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.
The workers’ compensation reform initiative under House Bill 2046 will fix this broken system. The current system is one of the most expensive in the nation—the 12th highest in costs—and it is rife with waste, fraud and legal nightmares. Only one adjacent state has higher costs: Missouri. And other bordering states are much lower.
House Bill 2046 will address four major reforms:
• Increasing benefits for workers
• Reducing legal costs
• Reducing medical costs for workers
• Increasing marketplace competition
Also attending the press conference were State Senate Republican Floor Leader Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, and State Senator Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow, who will carry the bill through the Senate.
“Oklahoma’s workers’ compensation system is a terrible burden on our economy that hurts our ability to attract and retain good jobs,” said Senator Coffee. “It’s also an embarrassment. Time and time again, when Oklahoma’s leaders try to seek out new potential employers, they hear that the state’s workers’ compensation system is simply too litigious and too expensive.”
“Our workers’ comp reform plan reduces litigation and medical costs, increases worker benefits, and injects competition into the marketplace for workers compensation insurance,” said Senator Pruitt. “This will make workers comp in Oklahoma less costly to employers and better for injured workers.”
Lieutenant Governor Mary Fallin also appeared at the reform announcement. Fallin has been an advocate of serious workers’ compensation reform for years.
“This must be the year for real, comprehensive workers comp reform,” said Fallin. “Because of my role in pushing for these reforms for the past eight years, I frequently hear from business owners and workers who are increasingly frustrated by our lack of progress. They were especially upset last year when a very good reform bill passed the House by a vote of 95-1 and then killed in the Senate. They aren’t going to accept excuses in 2005.”
“This is the most important issue facing our state’s economy,” said Representative Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City, who will carry the bill through the House. “The current system lines the pockets of lawyers, while hindering business owners and stripping away job opportunities from workers.”
Republican leaders say the reforms will have a profound impact in the battle to bring jobs to Oklahoma, while reducing a severe strain on struggling businesses. For out-of-work Oklahomans or for those simply trying to improve their lives, the reforms will bring new job opportunities. At the same time, the reforms will treat injured workers fairly—without having to decipher an oppressive bureaucracy. And the reforms will fight the fraud that happens every day across the state.
Said Hiett: “By fixing this crisis now, we’ll make workers’ compensation actually work for everyone. We’ll grow our economy, increase wages and provide a fair system to all Oklahomans.”
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