State Senators Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a workers’ compensation reform measure that will save Oklahoma businesses more than $110 million while protecting the rights of injured workers.
Final passage of the measure, which is endorsed by the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce, is expected by the end of the week.
In a 39-7 vote, Senators sent Senate Bill 1X to the Oklahoma House of Representatives for consideration.
“This legislation accomplishes the goals Senate Democrats set for workers’ comp back in February. It will reduce medical costs; save millions of dollars for Oklahoma businesses; reduce fraudulent claims; and, most importantly, ensure workers hurt on the job will continue to be treated and compensated for their injuries,” Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan said.
The Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce gave the bill an “A” rating and called the measure “major reform” and “probably the best workers’ compensation bill ever seen in the State of Oklahoma.”
The Senate leader said, despite the endorsement by the State Chamber of Commerce, Senate Republicans indicated with their floor debate Tuesday that they intend to continue to use the issue of workers’ compensation politically in the 2006 elections.
Five of six Republican caucus members who debated against the bill and then voted for it – making sure the official record will reflect a “yes” vote and still allow them to say they opposed it.
“It’s classic political rhetoric, saying one thing and then doing the other,” Morgan said. “This proves that Senate Republicans are using this issue as a political pawn. I am proud of the Democrats for voting with the courage of their convictions and leading the way in passing a meaningful workers’ compensation reform bill.”
The legislation will lower workers’ compensation medical costs, which represent 54 percent of the overall costs of the system, and protect the rights of injured workers to choose the doctor who will assess and treat their injuries.
“Other workers’ comp reform bills put the choice of doctors exclusively in the hands of employers. We dug in our heels on this issue and the result is that injured workers will still have the right to choose their doctor,” Morgan said.
The measure also allows the courts to order mediation to resolve simple claims’ disputes and encourages early settlement offers to reduce the number of claims in which attorneys are involved.
Additionally, it permits post-accident drug and alcohol testing and tightens up laws against workers’ compensation fraud.
“Certainly we would have liked to settle this issue in the regular session, but ‘watering down’ the rights of injured workers for political gain was just not something Senate Democrats were willing to support,” Morgan said. “And today I am proud of the work in the Senate to pass a bill that truly strikes a balance of lowering the cost of doing business in this state and protecting the rights of injured workers.”