Workers’ Comp Reform Measures Advance in Oklahoma House

February 18, 2010

Oklahoma State Representative Dan Sullivan wants employers “to know that we’re open for business in Oklahoma.”

Sullivan, a driving force behind Oklahoma workers’ compensation reform in the state’s House of Representatives, is the author of six bills aimed at overhauling the state’s workers’ compensation system that passed the House Economic Development and Financial Services Committee on Feb. 17.

The measures, HB 1611, HB 2650, HB 2652, HB 2658, HB 2659 and HB 2662, are still works in progress, according to Sullivan.

“We know our workers’ compensation system is broken, and we are currently working with all the interested parties to find an equitable solution that will work to reign in costs on Oklahoma businesses while ensuring workers have access to the medical care needed to get them back to work,” said Sullivan, R-Tulsa.

Despite the fact that the benefits specified in state law are comparable to work comp benefits in other states, the actual cost of those benefits in Oklahoma is the most expensive in the nation.

The system “as it is right now it’s a job killer,” Sullivan said in a video posted on the Legislature’s Web site. “We have employers that tell us they will not expand their businesses in Oklahoma because of the cost of doing business as it relates to workers compensation premiums. We also hear that employers have left the state because of the cost of workers compensation.”

He cited Tyson, which is closing a plant in Ponca City. Tyson is closing the plant because it says the cost of doing business in Oklahoma is multiple times the cost of operating the same type of plant in other states, Sullivan said.

Some of the reforms being sought will include defining the term “surgery” for purposes of compensation, strengthening the value-added attorney fee provision and capping the time for temporary total disability. A reduction in the number of workers’ comp judges may also be considered, coupled with a more equitable distribution of judges between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

HB 2662 seeks to privatize CompSource Oklahoma, the state-backed workers’ comp fund. Sullivan chaired a panel that conducted an interim study on options to privatizing CompSource. Among the options are mutualization and selling the company.

“We are keeping an open mind when it comes to the options available to us related to Comp Source,” said Sullivan. “This is an issue we have studied at length, and will continue to do so as we work to determine the best way to proceed. The issue of ownership is yet to be resolved and will need to be decided by the court. This bill is a tool to get the ownership question answered.”

The bills will next be heard before the full House of Representatives.

Source: Oklahoma House of Representatives

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