As Oklahoma legislators meet to discuss, adopt, and modify state laws this legislative session, one of their top concerns is the reform of the state's existing workers comp laws. Proponents of reform point to the state's high cost of workers compensation insurance and disability payouts higher than the regional average. However, workers' advocates caution that any reform should be handled carefully to avoid depriving employees of their workers comp rights. More than thirty workers' compensation reform bills have been introduced for legislators to consider during this year's legislative session, but analysts say that more than half of these are merely shell bills that do not include any substantive language. At least seven House and Senate bills under legislative consideration, however, would make significant changes to the existing Oklahoma Workers' Compensation system if enacted. Worker's Compensation reform bills to be considered by the state's 54th legislature include:
- HB 1255 - Authored by state Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, HB 1255 would limit employer-paid Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) payments to 520 weeks, exempt employers from paying compensation to workers who were injured while voluntarily failing to use provided safety equipment, and to cut workers' compensation benefits in half if the worker's injury or death was caused, even in part, by the employee's failure to obey state or federal safety laws.
- HB 1362 - Authored by state Rep. Arthur Hulbert, R-Fort Gibson, HB 1362 would create an administrative workers' compensation system as a division of the state Insurance Department. A governor-appointed and senate-confirmed Commissioner of Workers' Compensation Insurance would oversee the system.
- HB 1546 - Authored by Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa, HB 1546 would create an administrative workers's compensation system to replace the court-based system. The administrative system would be governed by a three-member Workers' Compensation Commission, appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state senate. The Commission would hear any cases of injuries occurring on or after November 1, 2013, while the existing Oklahoma Workers Compensation Court would hear cases of injuries occurring prior to that date. Under this bill, the OWCC would be phased out by 2020.
- HB 1752 - Authored by Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, who also authored HB 1255, this bill would allow certain employers to opt out of the Oklahoma workers' compensation system and provide their own benefit plan to injured workers. The employer-provided plans would have to meet state standards and would be under the oversight of the state insurance commissioner.
- HB 2054 - Authored by Rep. Mike Jackson, R-Enid, HB 2054 would exempt employers from paying benefits to workers who test positive for alcohol or illegal drugs following an accident, or if the employee refuses to take a drug or alcohol test. Current laws provide exemption only if drugs or alcohol are determined to be a major cause of an employee's accident.
- SB 428 and SB 485 - Authored by Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, and Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, these two similar bills would both create an administrative system administered by a three-member, governor-appointed and senate-confirmed commission. These bills would also create a workers' compensation fraud investigation unit in the state Insurance Department.