Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry’s workers’ compensation reform bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 5 to 4 vote, according to the Senate Communications Office.
The vote split upon party lines with Republican members voting against the bill. The GOP committee members complained that the Democratic governor’s bill is watered down.
However, the author or the bill, Judiciary Chairman Sen. Charlie Laster, (D-Shawnee), said passage of the bill out of committee puts the measure one step closer to bringing a comprehensive workers’ compensation reform package to Oklahoma businesses.
“Senate Bill 846 is a result of work from a bi-partisan task force that spent months developing a progressive workers’ compensation reform package that will dramatically reduce costs for business without compromising the rights of injured workers,” Laster said.
Laster claimed Republican members who voted against the measure in committee put politics ahead of reform.
The Republicans disagreed, saying the task force that developed the bill made no effort to determine whether the proposal reduces workers’ compensation insurance costs, and if so, by how much
“Senate Bill 846 does nothing to address the out-of-control legal costs or the dueling doctors problem that are driving up workers’ comp insurance rates in Oklahoma,” stated Judiciary Committee member Sen. Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow.
“The governor claims this is a ‘bipartisan’ bill, but in reality it is an effort by the governor and Senate Democrats to shield their trial lawyer friends from meaningful reforms—just like they did last year during the lawsuit reform debate,” stated Sen. James A. Williamson of Tulsa, the most senior Republican senator on the committee.
Williamson said Henry’s proposal was just a “baby step” when the state really needs comprehensive reform.
The House and Senate Republicans have their own workers’ comp reform plan that they estimate will save Oklahoma employers more than $100 million a year on their workers’ compensation costs.
Pruitt maintained that in Oklahoma attorneys are two-and-a-half to three times more likely to be involved in workers’ comp cases than the national average.
“Attorney involvement is definitely a driver of the high costs of Oklahoma’s workers’ comp system, and this must be addressed if we are to have meaningful workers’ comp reform,” Pruitt said.
“We are still early in the process, so I am confident there can be an agreement on a workers’ comp package that provides significant savings to employers,” said Pruitt, the Senate GOP’s point person on workers’ compensation reform.
“I urge the Legislature to move forward on this measure in a bi-partisan, cooperative spirit that was established by Governor Henry and the task force,” Laster said. “Do what is right for Oklahoma businesses and Oklahoma workers, and leave the politics out of the process.”
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