Gov. Brad Henry’s watered-down workers’ compensation reform bill was passed 5 to 4 on a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.
“Senate Bill 846 does nothing to address the out-of-control legal costs or the dueling doctors problem that are driving up workers’ comp insurance rates in Oklahoma,” stated Judiciary Committee member Sen. Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow.
“The governor claims this is a ‘bipartisan’ bill, but in reality it is an effort by the governor and Senate Democrats to shield their trial lawyer friends from meaningful reforms – just like they did last year during the lawsuit reform debate,” stated Sen. James A. Williamson of Tulsa, the most senior Republican senator on the committee.
“Meaningful workers’ comp reform is necessary in 2005 if we are going to improve our economy and attract new jobs and higher wages to Oklahoma. Republicans and Democrats must work together to make legal reforms a part of workers’ comp reform this year,” Pruitt said.
In the committee, the bill’s supporters admitted that the governor’s task force made absolutely no effort to determine whether Gov. Henry’s proposal reduces the costs of workers compensation insurance, and if so, by how much. Meanwhile, the House and Senate GOP’s workers’ comp reform plan is estimated to save employers more than $100 million a year on their workers’ compensation costs.
Williamson said Henry’s proposal was just a “baby step” when the state really needs comprehensive reform.
“This is not a time for the baby steps the governor is proposing. Oklahoma needs real and comprehensive workers’ comp reforms that reduce the involvement of lawyers in workers’ comp cases,” Williamson said.
Pruitt said that in Oklahoma attorneys are two-and-a-half to three times more likely to be involved in workers’ comp cases than the national average.
“Attorney involvement is definitely a driver of the high costs of Oklahoma’s workers’ comp system, and this must be addressed if we are to have meaningful workers’ comp reform,” Pruitt said.
“We are still early in the process, so I am confident there can be an agreement on a workers’ comp package that provides significant savings to employers,” said Pruitt, the Senate GOP’s point person on workers compensation reform.