NCCI recently reported that they are monitoring more than 500 workers' compensation bills being considered in state legislative bodies around the nation this year. On the surface, it would appear that it may be a year of tremendous change for the workers' compensation industry. But will it?
After all, those bills all have to survive the process of debate and revision; and the realities of the legislative sieve is that most will never live to see the light of day.
Many of the proposed laws being considered represent the desires and ideas of a select interest group or specific legislator. Often, they embody less than stellar notions or changes that simply cannot garner the approval of any significant number of legislators. The vast majority of these bills will “die in committee,” failing to have earned enough support to move on to the greater legislative body.
Of course, not all bad ideas die in committee, and not all good ideas make it through the process and into law. The legislative sieve is not a perfect means, as it too often depends on a mysterious brew; a concoction that consists of the ignorance of legislators regarding workers' comp, mixed with whatever special interest group has managed to gain their attention for this particular session. The “sieve,” unlike its cooking counterpart, is less a singular device than it is a combination of ingredients; a recipe for good or disaster, depending on your point of view.
NCCI reported that last year there were 126 bills proposed that were related to first responders. Out of those, 10 states passed legislation related to expanding benefits or studying the issue. NCCI is watching another 100 bills proposed this year on the same topic. As documented here before, first responder bills are likely to survive most legislative filters, as politicians around the country race to create a “Super Class” of injured worker, where compensability is to be determined primarily on the job title of the person claiming injury.
Remember, the sieve can produce results with noble intent, while the outcomes are still fundamentally unfair.
The outcome for other “hot topics” is not as clear this year. NCCI also tells us that medical marijuana, independent contractors and single payer healthcare are also big items on this year's legislative agendas around the country. None of those subjects should be a surprise to anyone. Medical marijuana (or cannabis, for the purists behind the cause) will continue its roll toward greater acceptance, while California's dramatic action on independent contractors (AB5) has no doubt stirred discussion in many state houses.
My prediction is that several states will codify standards regarding independent contractors, but not at the draconian (and disastrous) level of California's AB5. As for the single payer debate, I wouldn't expect anything more significant than an eventual study that will lead nowhere – for now.
But the only thing we know for certain is that the legislative sieve can be a fickle mistress. We'll have to wait until next year to really know how it all turns out.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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