Oklahoma: Bill exempts small family businesses from workers' comp requirements
House Bill 1003, sponsored by Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, is aimed at aiding small family businesses who employ five or fewer employees who are all related. Current state laws only allow for a natural person to be exempt from Oklahoma workers' comp mandates.
Kern said workers' comp reforms approved in 2005 eliminated exemptions for partnerships, limited liability companies, and corporations and that those changes have proven difficult for small family firms.
"This is not a problem for large corporations, but the reforms unintentionally forced many small family businesses to carry thousands of dollars in insurance, burdening them to sometimes the point of closure," she said. "This bill will alleviate that situation and increase the ability of these families to maintain a successful business."
Headed to ballot. The Oklahoma Senate and House of Representatives also approved a plan that will send a key piece of workers' comp reform legislation to the voters in 2010. If approved by the voters, House Joint Resolution 1041 would require Senate confirmation of gubernatorial appointments to the state Workers' Compensation Court. The resolution was drafted after the governor vetoed an identical measure -- S. 609 -- earlier this year.
Henry argued that the legislation would politicize a nonpartisan process. However, Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, and author of the resolution, said the vetting process is critical to ensure accountability in the workers' comp system.
"This legislation will help ensure injured workers across the state are given their day in court in front of judges that are approved by their representative government."
Currently, District Court judges are directly elected in the state, and Civil and Criminal Appeals Court and Oklahoma Supreme Court judges all appear on a retention ballot at the end of their appointed terms. Judges for the Workers' Compensation Court are the only ones who never appear on a ballot, Sullivan noted.
"This is an issue that could affect every injured worker in this state, and we feel like this reform is important enough to take directly to the people," said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. "Requiring Senate confirmation of Workers' Compensation Court judges is a reasonable reform that adds accountability to the current system."
June 15, 2009
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