Checks should soon be going out to injured workers and Oklahoma businesses under legislation approved by the House and Senate late Wednesday.
SB 1414 by Senator Brad Henry and Representative Mike Ervin will pay off injured workers who are owed money by the former Special Indemnity Fund, in addition to awarding a $30 million premium rebate to customers of the State Insurance Fund and providing for similar rebates in the future.
"I think this offers the best of all worlds. It allows us to pay off thousands of injured workers and give a big cash rebate to businesses. We're paying off a long overdue debt and delivering the equivalent of a $30 million tax cut in the process," said Senator Henry.
"It may sound too good to be true to the injured workers, but this time, the checks are really going to be in the mail. I'm told that they are already being processed and will be sent out as soon as the legislation receives the Governor's approval."
SB 1414 will pump much-needed money into the former Special Indemnity Fund, the account used to compensate workers for on-the-job injury awards. The measure will also issue a $30 million premium rebate to State Insurance Fund customers, the entity that writes workers comp insurance for many state agencies and approximately one-quarter of Oklahoma businesses.
The state will use its share of the rebate and an additional loan from the Insurance Fund to pay off approximately 6,000 injured workers. Some of those workers have been waiting for as long as six years to receive backlogged payments from the former Special Indemnity Fund, now known as
the Multiple Injury Trust Fund.
"This fix is long overdue. The men and women who have waited so long and so patiently for their money will finally get what is owed to them," said Senator Henry.
Another important feature of SB 1414 is a mechanism that guarantees that future rebates will be made to Insurance Fund policyholders when possible. It requires the fund to issue a rebate whenever its surplus revenue is twice the amount of incoming premiums.
"Businesses that are part of the fund can probably look forward to more rebates in the future. This assures that they will be getting the best possible return on their insurance investment," said Senator Henry.
Lawmakers attempted to fix the Special Indemnity Fund problems last year, but the law passed by the Legislature and signed by Governor Keating was stalled by a court challenge. Even though the Legislature won the first round of legal battles, Senator Henry said they felt it would be better to settle the matter once and for all, instead of risking more delays for the parties involved.
"The workers had waited long enough. There was certainly nothing to be gained by having them held hostage by lawsuit after lawsuit. I think we ultimately would have won the court battles, but the delays that would have resulted just weren't worth it," said Senator Henry.
"It's time for the state to pay its debts and move ahead with a better system in place."