Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

House Oks Workers' Compensation Bill

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

House Oks Workers' Compensation Bill

Article excerpt

Sen. Marvin York's bill to reform the state's workers' compensation system cleared the Oklahoma House of Representatives o n Wednesday, after the House amended it to favor employers.

The vote was unanimous to approve the heavily amended committee substitute for Senate Bill 496 by York, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. E.C. "Sandy" Sanders, D-Oklahoma City.

"It's been work, it's been heck," Sanders said, "but I'm determined that we're going to get a workers' compensation bill passed this session."

The bill next goes back to the Oklahoma Senate, which is expected to reject the House amendments.

The final compromise version of the workers' compensation bill is expected to be written by a joint conference committee, whose members will be appointed by House Speaker Jim Barker, D-Muskogee, and Senate President Pro Tempore Rodger Randle, D-Tulsa.

The bill broadens the powers of the administrator of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court by allowing him to set pre-trial hearings on workers' compensation claims.

However, business lobbyists hope the final version of the bill will require a pre-trial hearing.

A medical fee schedule, intended to help curb soaring workers' compensation rates, would be set by the court administrator - a key provision in York's bill that was retained Wednesday by the House.

Since the focus is on a conference committee compromise, about 12 business lobbyists camped outside the House speaker's office Wednesday, awaiting their appointment with him.

Leo Cravens, lobbyist for the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association, and Dean Schirf, lobbyist for the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, said Barker was receptive to the business crowd's ideas.

"We've just got to get some conferees who are friendly to business," Cravens said.

"If we do nothing else this session, we've got to reform workers' comp," Cravens said.

Rep. Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, and Rep. Robert Henry, D-Shawnee, were mentioned as preferred conferees by Schirf and other business spokesmen.

Benson weakened one key provision of York's bill Wednesday with an amendment requiring an employee to prove that his employer "willfully" failed to provide workers' compensation insurance before the employer could be penalized.

"The "willful' test requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt," said Benson, a lawyer.

But Rep. Mike Lawter, D-Oklahoma City, a lawyer who represents injured workers in compensation claims, fought Benson on that one. …

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