(Oklahoma City) A joint legislative committee charged with solving the financial problems of the Multiple Injury Trust Fund has forged a compromise, according to Governor Frank Keating and legislative leaders.
The agreement clears the way for the Legislature to reconvene in special session next week. The State House and Senate will return on Tuesday, October 23rd to consider the MITF legislation.
The compromise legislation was the product of a week of discussions by a joint panel of Republican and Democratic legislatorsand representatives of the governor's office.
"We need to pay the injured workers the money that is owed to them and this compromise accomplishes that. Senator Brad Henry and the other negotiators should be commended for their work on this very difficult issue," said Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor (D-Claremore).
"I want to thank all the individuals involved in thenegotiations, and I am pleased that they could reach an agreement in abipartisan effort. The solution reached is a well-balanced blend ofreforms that should be beneficial to the hardworking men and women of the state while providing a better business environment during these difficult and trying times," House Speaker Larry Adair (D-Stilwell).
"I want to commend the legislators whose diligence, creativity and hard work on this bill ensured that disability payment obligations to injured workers are met without an increased burden on Oklahoma businesses. In addition, after conferring with Actuarial and Technical Solutions, Inc., a national ranking service on state workers compensation costs, it appears that when this bill's cost-saving reforms are coupled with the recent cut in rates ordered by the State Property and Casualty Board, Oklahoma will leapfrog nine states in manufacturing sector rankings going from 42nd to 33rd. This legislation is truly a win-win for Oklahomans, employers and employees alike," said Governor Keating.
Under the terms of the agreement, workers compensation premium assessments will be increased to provide additional funding to the MITF, but businesses that pay the assessments will be provided with a tax credit to offset the increased cost to them. Additional reforms will also be made in the workers compensation system, further reducing costs to business owners.
"I am pleased that the negotiating team was able to work in a bipartisan manner to pay the legitimate claims of injured workers without raising taxes on businesses, and to make some modest workers compensation reforms," said Rep. Fred Morgan (R-Oklahoma City), House Republican Leader. "We need to continue working in the regular session to further improve our workers compensation system."
"This bill is a good compromise for all of the parties involved. Not only have we provided a permanent funding solution for the MITF, we have also provided the first increase in certain benefits in over 20 years," said Rep. Jari Askins (D-Duncan), who helped negotiate the compromise.
"I would like to commend everyone involved with the negotiations for their diligence and their willingness to openly and honestly discuss the complex issues surrounding workers' compensation. In the end we came up with a bill that funds the obligations to MITF recipients, increases benefits to injured workers, and provides for significant medical cost savings," said Senator Scott Pruitt (R-Tulsa), who also helped with the
The legislation that will carry the compromise language is currently being drafted for consideration in next week's special session. Officials at the MITF have indicated that they will again run short of money after issuing checks to disabled workers on October 19th.