Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Walters, State Chamber at Odds over Workers Compensation

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Walters, State Chamber at Odds over Workers Compensation

Article excerpt

The governor's workers compensation bill is not dead yet, but it's in poor health, Gov. David Walters said Thursday at his news conference.

"The state chamber is, in my view, working hard to kill the bill," he said, citing "behavior I can only describe as bizarre." According to Ronn Cupp, chamber governmental affairs vice president, the members feel strongly on the issue but it's inaccurate to say they're trying to kill the bill.

"They've said it (system) needs more than a tuneup; it needs a major overhaul," Cupp said. "They've said they'd rather have no bill than this particular bill," he said.

"But I don't think it's up to us to kill the bill. We will not let it run over us and be passed the way we don't like it, but we're willing to negotiate." Walters said he doesn't understand what the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce & Industry wants. He said all the provisions they originally asked for were put into the bill, but they now want more. He said chamber members were deliberately misled by their lobbyist on what the bill would cost businesses.

Cupp said all but three of the chamber's requested provisions were stripped from the final version of the bill. He said a chamber committee, composed of personnel specialists from different companies, analyzed the bill and determined it would add 10 to 15 percent to businesses' workers compensation costs.

Moreover, Cupp said the chamber's workers compensation lobbyist, Mike Seney, follows the directions he receives from the chamber members.

House Bill 2132, principally co-authored by Rep. Bill Settle, D-Muskogee and Sen. Don Williams, D-Balko, originally contained the recommendations of the Governor's Workers Compensation Task Force. A lot of amendments have been added since it was introduced.

The bill was assigned to a joint House-Senate conference committee, which could not reach an agreement, so Settle elected to file a conference report this week that said they failed to agree.

Walters said several of the changes recommended by the state chamber are ill-advised. He said the chamber wish list is "very much a moving target." He said the House leaders said the bill contained the most significant reforms in a decade, and he accused the chamber of "trying to draw a line in the dirt on a bill that's been changed a number of times." "I'm very proud of that bill," Walters said.

"This all-or-nothing attitude of the state chamber is very unconstructive at this point." The governor said there are 18 provisions in the bill requested by the chamber. Cupp said he's unsure what Walters is referring to.

Cupp said the chamber has demonstrated throughout the process that they're willing to negotiate. The board of directors opposed the Settle bill in its original version, he said.

"Mr. Settle would not make any amendments we proposed to him. …

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