by Gus Blackwell
On Tuesday of last week we continued the special session that had begun in the waning hours of the regular session. The topic was originally limited to workers' compensation insurance, but the Governor widened the call of issues on Friday to include funding for the Centennial Commission and the Department of Corrections.
Each chamber had a bill that began to make its way through the process. The first day each chamber simply read each bill for a second time. There must be at least three public readings of the bill before it can be voted on in either chamber. The reading of the bill does not mean that the bill is read in its entirety though. It simply means that the bill number and the short title are read aloud by the clerk.
Originally it was thought the House bill would be used, but on Wednesday when the Senate passed their bill, it was determined to use their version. The Senate bill was read for the second time in the House on Thursday and then brought to the floor for debate on Friday.
By Friday, both the Republican and Democratic caucuses had met four times each to get answers to their questions. The bill was advanced past the stage of questions and amendments to keep the bill “clean”. The Senate had passed the bill with the title on and if the House passed it in the same form it would then go to the Governor's desk for his signature. Debate time was doubled however, to allow as much time as needed to deal with this issue.
Although there were several that debated against the bill, the final vote had only 8 nays. The rest of the House felt that the bill, was good enough to help Oklahoma business. It is certainly not the best bill that the House had passed this session, but it did allow over 100 million of savings as certified by a national ranking agencies.
Some of the provisions allow increased benefits for workers. It helps workers get the money and fast medical treatment they deserve, More than doubles benefits for disfigurement. Death benefits are increased from $20,000 a spouse to $100,000 and from $5,000 to $20,000 for a surviving child. It increases “take home” benefits for hurt workers by avoiding attorneys' fees through early resolution.
It also reduces legal costs by mandating a value added fee. If lawyers strike settlement deals, they will only make money on the amount they obtain for a client above the settlement offered by the employer. It also eliminates “dueling doctors“. Workers' comp judges will appoint independent doctors to provide evaluations of injured workers. This provision will speed up benefits for workers, as well as preventing litigation from tying up cases.
The bill will also reduce medical costs for workers and increase workplace safety. The bill provides incentives for companies to use certified workplace medical plans and to use the Safety Pays program. It ensures that heart-related, aging-related and cumulative injuries are clearly proven workplace injuries.
One of the big items that the press has jumped on is the selection of doctors. Although the employer has the initial choice of doctor, the employee can substitute his own choice if he or she so desires. In case of a continue disagreement, then the doctor will be selected at random from a group selected by both. Although, there are still problems that aren't addressed in the bill, it is a good first step to address system abuse.
Boise City News