Legislative Assault On Workers' Continues

Yesterday the latest version of HB 2205 was filed amidst reports that it is “clean-up legislation”. Actually, its yet another attempt to strip Oklahoma workers of benefits, assuring that our workers are compensated for injuries at the lowest rate in the nation while allowing additional hundreds or even thousands of new employers to opt out of the system with totally inadequate financial security for employees. It is shameful and should not be approved. HB 2205 guts the latest Supreme Court case, Maxwell v. Sprint, by forcing an over 30% cut in benefits to a worker lucky enough not to have a limb amputated but not lucky enough not to have lost most of the use of that arm or leg. Under this punitive legislation a worker who were to have a leg amputated would receive $88,825 (a shockingly low sum for an amputated leg anyway!) but someone with a 75% impairment to the leg (which would eliminate a worker from most jobs they would otherwise be qualified for) would receive a woefully inadequate $33,915 rather than the current $66,619 they are entitled to, a 50% cut in benefits. It is unconscionable this would actually be considered to be passed by our elected representatives. In addition HB 2205 does nothing to address the underlying problems with allowing employers to opt out of the system, a law that was recently found unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission. Instead it doubles down on a bad law by allowing two or more employers to bind together as a “controlled group” (whatever that is) which allow presumably thousands of employers to opt out in the same plan, setting up essentially new insurance companies with no capital and no ability to give even a minimal assurance that the group could meet its obligations. The financial strength of insurance companies is the foundation all citizens rely on to be sure that the company will be in business to pay a claim. This bill allowing workers to be insured by schemes with no capital and surplus, and no joint and several liability, can only mean our Legislative leaders don’t believe Oklahoma workers deserve the same financial security as everyone else in Oklahoma who purchases insurance from legitimate sources. HB 2205 specifically strips the power of the Oklahoma Workers’ Compensation Commission from determining the constitutionality of provisions, presumably as punishment for its recent decision. Oddly, however, it reaffirmed it is a court of competent jurisdiction, the statute the Commission relied upon for its decision in the first place. There are many other dangerous provisions in HB 2205 too complex to address here. But the bottom line is that this bill is terrible for working Oklahomans and should not be passed by our Legislature. Michael Clingman


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