Oklahoma Workers' Comp Reform Bill Hits Roadblock

Senate Bill 1062, which proposes reform of the existing Oklahoma workers' compensation system, has passed the state Senate, but reached a significant roadblock when reviewed by a House advisory board. Michael Carter, chairman of the advisory board, called the bill "unworkable" as written. He says that although most legislators agree that reform is necessary and agree with the policy changes addressed by the bill, the language itself could cause havoc instead of reform. SB 1062 proposes doing away with the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Court and replacing the court-based system with an administrative system.  Supporters say that such a change will save money and provide incentive to businesses who have avoided Oklahoma due to its high cost of workers' compensation insurance.  Opponents of the bill say that by eliminating an adversarial, court-based system, Oklahoma workers may not be able to obtain the benefits they need and deserve following a workplace injury. Despite agreeing with the basic ideas of the bill, the advisory board voted 8-1 against the bill as written and urged legislators to revisit the bill.  Criticism of the bill included:

  • a lack of policy addressing fraud and its penalties,
  • contradictory language that both repeals the law which established the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Court while simultaneously allowing the OWCC to continue for three more years,
  • gaps between the establishment of the administrative system and the abolition of the court system,
  • and no provision for physicians' intensive treatment guidelines that exist under the current law.
The advisory board says that by repealing Title 85, which governs the rules and regulations of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Court, the proposed bill eliminates all regulation of the existing system.  Though a dual-system is designated by the proposed bill until the new administrative system is fully functioning, the repeal of Title 85 would eliminate all regulation of the OWCC while still allowing it to exist. The advisory board noted that it did not disagree with the proposed policy changes, but said that, as written, the bill would have significant problems and required revision before becoming law.  The board chairman said, “It seems to me that if you were in favor of all of the policy provisions in the bill that the actual mechanics of the bill are not the way we would ever go about accomplishing this.” The advisory committee has urged the authors of the bill and state legislators to carefully scrutinize the existing bill and address concerns before acting on it. For Oklahoma workers with workers' compensation issues, it is important to get legal representation for a claim as quickly as possible, before the claim becomes ensnared in any complications arising from new legislation.  Workers comp laws are complex, and an attorney can help you successfully navigate the existing court-based system.