OK Gov. Signs Legislation Streamlining WC System


Tulsa, OK (CompNewsNetwork) - Gov. Brad Henry added his signature to legislation that would improve the state's workers' compensation system for injured workers and reduce costs for Oklahoma employers.

Henry signed the final two bills of a four-bill package that comprise a bipartisan agreement that was negotiated over the course of this legislative session with House and Senate leaders, the executive branch and other stakeholders.

The package includes House Bill 1611 and Senate Bill 1973 and House Bill 2650 and House Bill 2652, the two bills signed today by Henry. Together, it is estimated the bills would save businesses in the state at least $60.5 million.

The reforms included in the bills will:

  • Increase the power of the Physician Advisory Council and require the court to follow its recommendations unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary
  • Reduce the number of Workers' Compensation Court judges from ten to eight
  • Require five judges to be permanently assigned to Oklahoma City and three to Tulsa
  • State that the next two positions to become vacant after July 1, 2010, shall not be refilled
  • Restrict judges to one eight-year term
  • Allow a former judge to reapply after three years off the Court
  • Require current judges to go back through the Judicial Nominating Commission if they want to reapply
  • Require Senate confirmation on any Workers' Compensation judge
  • Requires that any Workers' Compensation judge to have not less than five years of workers' compensation experience
  • Tighten up definitions of "major cause" and "objective medical evidence" 
  • Allow the Sup court review workers comp claims just like any other civil case
  • Require that the claimant shall be in attendance unless all parties agree, and all parties shall be represented during the entire mediation by a person with full settlement authority to settle any issue of the claim
  • Require all claims adjusters to have six hours of continuing education on Oklahoma's workers' compensation act as part of the required twenty-four hours of continuing education
  • Further define what is a work-related activity for purposes of being covered under the workers' comp act
  • Cap the Partial Payment Disability (PPD) rate at $323/week for five years
  • Limit Permanent Total Disability to 100 percent Social Security retirement age or 15 years, whichever is longer
  • Clarify light-duty work and the employee's refusal to participate
  • Set up a task force to look at vocational rehabilitation for injured workers
  • Unless recommended by the treating doctor at the time claimant reaches maximum medical improvement, Continuing Maintenance Medical shall not be awarded by the Workers' Compensation Court unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary
  • Tighten up benefits for soft tissue injuries
  • Provide for early mailing of a notice that will notify workers of free counseling services offered by the workers' comp court 
  • Define an intentional tort that will allow a lawsuit to be filed in district court rather than in workers' comp court
"These changes will bring more fairness to the system for injured workers while also helping control costs for Oklahoma businesses," said Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, author of the bill and chairman of the House Economic Development Committee. "This legislation will put our state in a position to be more economically competitive while bringing some much needed reforms to the workers' compensation court itself."

Workers' compensation reform was one of the top priorities this past legislative session for House and Senate Republicans.

"This legislation will help grow Oklahoma's economy while still protecting the injured worker and helping them on their road to recovery," said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa. "I would like to thank all of the parties involved in the negotiations for their bipartisan efforts." 

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