Senate Republican leaders said they hope Gov. Brad Henry’s pledge to “attack” the problems in Oklahoma’s workers compensation system during the next legislative session is serious, but they have doubts based on the governor’s track record on other lawyer-related issues.
Oklahoma’s expensive workers comp system is widely viewed as a major impediment to retaining and attracting jobs in the state. Henry made his pledge Tuesday at a Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
“If Gov. Henry is going to do for workers comp reform what he did for lawsuit reform, no thank you. But, if he is willing to buck the trial lawyers this time and help us pass meaningful workers comp reform, Senate Republicans stand ready to work with him,” stated Senate Republican Leader James A. Williamson, R-Tulsa.
“Until we see the details of what the governor considers to be workers comp ‘reform,’ it will be difficult for pro-reform advocates to believe he is serious. Reformers trusted the governor earlier this year when he proposed a lawsuit reform bill, but then he stabbed us in the back at the end of the legislative session and gave us a meaningless bill that should have been called the ‘Trial Lawyer Protection Act.’ Gov. Henry betrayed the reformers on the lawsuit reform issue, so he is going to have to work overtime to earn our trust on workers comp,” stated Senate Republican Leader-elect Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City.
Unfortunately, Republicans said, getting Gov. Henry’s support for meaningful workers comp reform might be the easy part.
“Even if Gov. Henry is sincere and really would support meaningful workers comp reform legislation, the Senate Democrat leadership will never allow it to pass. They will kill meaningful workers comp reform next year just like they killed it this year,” said Senate Assistant Republican Leader Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow.
“There is zero chance the Senate Democrat leadership will allow meaningful workers comp reform to become law. If it happens, it will be over their objections,” Williamson said.
Workers comp insurance rates in Oklahoma are among the highest in the nation, but benefits to injured workers are among the lowest. In Oklahoma, lawyers are almost three times as likely to be involved in workers comp cases compared to the national average. Oklahoma’s system enriches lawyers at the expense of workers and businesses.