The Democrat leadership of the Oklahoma State Senate is refusing to allow a committee chairman to hear a landmark workers compensation reform bill, Senate Republican leaders said at a State Capitol news conference.
House Bill 2619 was assigned by the Senate’s Democrat leadership to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but they will not allow Judiciary Chairman Jerry Smith, R-Tulsa, to hear the legislation in his committee.
“Senator Smith supports this meaningful workers comp reform bill, and will hear the bill in his committee if the Democrat leadership will allow it,” stated Senate GOP Leader James A. Williamson, R-Tulsa.
“The leadership’s refusal to hear the bill indicates to me they are intent on killing this bill because it contains real reforms. But, they’ll keep alive a few shell bills so they can pass a sham reform bill that has been pre-approved by the trial lawyers but doesn’t do anything to lower workers comp costs for employers. This is the same song, different verse from the Democrat leadership,” he said.
Oklahoma’s workers compensation system ranks among the highest in the nation in the cost of workers compensation insurance for employers, but among the lowest in benefits provided to workers. Oklahoma’s lawyer-friendly workers comp system is a leading cause of “job flight” from Oklahoma, as employers move to states with more business-friendly environments.
“Sadly, the Senate Democrat leadership seems more interested in protecting their trial lawyer allies than in passing pro-jobs legislation that will help our state economy grow,” said Senate Assistant Republican Floor Leader Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow.
House Bill 2619, authored by Pruitt and Rep. Ron Peterson, R-Broken Arrow, overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives on March 11 by a 95 to 1 vote. The bill must receive a committee hearing next week or it is dead for the year.
“HB 2619 is a jobs-friendly measure that will cut workers compensation costs for employers and put more money in the pockets of injured workers by eliminating unnecessary litigation. This bill will go a long way toward stemming the flight of jobs from Oklahoma that we have seen in recent years,” stated Pruitt.
The bill could cut state employers’ workers compensation insurance costs by upwards of $100 million according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance.
The GOP news conference was attended by Senators Williamson, Pruitt, and Smith.