S.B. 1973, sponsored by Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, would decrease the number of judges on the Workers' Compensation Court from 10 to eight; increase the terms of judges from six to eight years, limiting to one term; qualify current judges for reappointment to one eight-year term; define "major cause"; and exempt employers from liability for injuries arising outside the course of employment.
"Our workers' compensation system is broken for employees and employers alike," said Sullivan, chairman of the House Economic Development Committee. "These are common-sense changes that will improve fairness in the system for workers while having the added benefit of driving down costs for employers. Such cost reductions are critical if we expect economic growth in our state, including job creation."
House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, said the legislation, which passed on a 64-33 vote, will streamline the system for injured workers, "helping them return to their livelihood as soon as they physically can."
The legislation passed without a last-minute amendment proposed by Rep. Ken Luttrell, D-Ponca City, that would have revoked the entire current workers' comp system and sent all claims to district civil courts.
Fraud bill vetoed. Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a bill that would have established new penalties for employers and individuals who commit workers' comp fraud. H.B. 2894, sponsored by Rep. Purcy Walker, D-Elk City, passed the House and Senate by a wide margin.
Henry said that while it is critical for the state to punish those who commit fraud, it is equally important that any state-imposed penalties be clearly and concisely prescribed in statute in order to be fairly and effectively administered by the appropriate courts.
"H.B. 2894, however, is so vaguely and ambiguously constructed that it would be virtually impossible for any court to administer in a manner that would withstand constitutionally challenge," he said.
In proposing a monetary penalty for those found guilty of fraud, Henry said the legislation offers no clear formula for determining and legally justifying such an assessment, the amount, or how long it will be imposed. The governor urged supporters of the bill to work with his staff and other interested parties to address the deficiencies and submit a new bill for his consideration.
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May 13, 2010
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