Workers' Compensation Bill Dead for Session/killed in Committee

Article excerpt

A bill that would eliminate the Workers' Compensation Court and replace it with the Workers Compensation Agency headed by a governor-appointed administrator was killed for this legislative session in the Senate Judiciary and Retirement Committee Tuesday.

By a vote of 9 to 6, the members voted to report progress on House Bill 1459, known as the Workers' Compensation Act, which basically kills it for this session of the Oklahoma Legislature.

However, the committee did pass another workers' compensation bill which provides that an employee's benefits could be cut off if he "unreasonably refuses" to accept medical rehabilitation or physical therapy.

Though Rep. Michael Hunter, R-Oklahoma City, had counted on a Senate rule which allows report progress bills to be reconsidered for a vote before committee deadlines, Sen. Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore, said the rule is different in Senate Judiciary Committee.

Taylor explained that a committee member who voted for report progress would have to ask for reconsideration on the vote and the majority of the members who voted for report progress would have to agree to the reconsideration vote - making chances for House Bill 1459 being reconsidered this session extremely slim at best.

"Because of the tremendous work load in that committee, we just can't be resurrecting bills that have been killed," said Taylor.

He stated judiciary has 50 more bills to consider before the April 23 deadline for House bills, including the extensive Oklahoma Economic Recovery Act of 1987.

House Bill 1459 is a request bill by Gov. Henry Bellmon. It provides that the present Workers' Compensation Court would be abolished and replaced by the Workers' Compensation Agency.

The administrator would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. There would also be a three-member appeals board and a five-member medical appeals board.

In the discussion of the bill, Sen. Jerry Smith, R-Tulsa, was asked if there had been any studies that revealed making workers' compensation an administrative system would lower insurance rates, to which Smith replied there had been no hearings on workers compensation.

Sen. Ged Wright, R-Tulsa, said that after the hundreds of hours spent in conference committee last year developing changes in the workers' compensation system it would be "just crazy" to scrap the present process and set up an administrative system.

Wright added that administrators of workers' compensation agencies in other states had voluntarily contacted him, saying the administrative system was "burdensome" and would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain.

Hunter was not at the committee meeting but later said he was surpised the bill was voted upon Tuesday. It was his understanding, Hunter said, the measure was to be laid over to give the members a chance to review it further.

Hunter said he had heard "second hand" that Senate Majority Leader Sen. John Luton, D-Muskogee, was determined to kill the bill in committee. …