Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commentary: Capitol Business: More Snags in Workers' Comp Reform

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Commentary: Capitol Business: More Snags in Workers' Comp Reform

Article excerpt

A strategy of sending workers' compensation and lawsuit reform bills to conference committees by those opposed to them has worked well for many years in the Oklahoma Legislature.

It is working again this year as Senate Democrats locked up to ensure House Bill 2046, a comprehensive workers' compensation reform compromise by Speaker of the House Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, and Sen. Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow, would go to joint conference.

As presented to the Senate it included the best elements of the original bill and Senate Bill 846 by Sen. Charlie Laster, D- Shawnee, which is Gov. Brad Henry's plan.

It contained medical and legal reform, new definitions of compensability, employer choice of doctor, reduction in the use of dueling doctors for disability ratings, increased fraud penalties and other major reforms. The estimated cost savings would amount to about $150 million.

After the Democrats stalled an attempt to keep the bill's title from being stricken, Pruitt withdrew it from consideration. Last Thursday was the final day for House bills to be considered by the Senate, except through conference committee reports.

Early that day Democrat senators played hooky refusing to meet at the designated 9 a.m. convening time, leaving only Republican members and Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin presiding as president of the Senate. Lacking a quorum they could conduct no business.

At a press conference Democrat leaders announced they were on the job and Democrat senators were in their offices taking care of business. Several observers and some businessmen wanting to lobby their senators for the bill could not find any of them, and wondered if they had gone to Texas.

Whether HB 2046 is dead does not mean the end of negotiations on workers' compensation. Two Senate bills dealing with the reform passed the House with titles stricken, which could force them to a conference committee.

One is SB 846. The other, SB 789, also by Laster, was amended by the House sponsor, Rep. Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City, to include much of the language of HB 2046.

Sound complicated? It is, but all too typical of the legislative legerdemain used in past efforts on this issue, including trial lawyers and their cronies in the governor's office and Senate to forestall significant reform. …

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