Bill overhauling workers comp rules passes Senate committee

03/21/2018 03:59 PM

FRANKFORT – A House bill which would cap how long people with some permanent on-the-job injuries can collect benefits was passed by the Senate Standing committee on State and Local Government on Wednesday.

House Bill 2, sponsored by Rep. Adam Koenig, was passed by a 7-4 vote with Republican Sen. Dan Seum, R-Louisville, joining three Democrats, Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville, Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, and Sen. Dorsey Ridley, D-Henderson, in voting no.

HB 2 would only require employers to pay benefits to workers with “permanent-partial disabilities” for 15 years, after which injured workers would be able to reapply for two-year extensions.

The legislation would also prevent workers compensation cases from being reopened more than four years after a claim is made and workers would have to file claims for cumulative trauma, which would be injuries that build up over time, within five years of the most recent injury.

The bill would apply only to future workers compensation claims and would not apply to workers with permanent-total disabilities like amputations, blindness or loss of hearing.

Ashli Watts, representing the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, says that overhauling the states’ workers compensation laws is a necessity to compete with other states in attracting new businesses to the Commonwealth.

“This legislation represents an opportunity for Kentucky to improve its competitiveness relative to other states in terms of attracting and retaining business,” Watts said. “The Kentucky General Assembly has taken many steps over the past year to improve our competitiveness and we’ve seen a record number of investments in new jobs, but writing the next chapter in the success story will require action to modernize our workers comp system and address the recent impact of court decisions.”

Kentucky Coal Association President Tyler White spoke in favor of the bill saying that the current workers compensation system is currently financially crippling the struggling coal industry.

“We have one company that operates a surface mine and they’ve seen premiums rise from $306,000 in 2013 to $705,000 in 2017,” White said. “We’ve got another company with an underground mine, their premiums have increased from $1,054,000 in 2013 to $1,985,000 in 2017. Not only has this impacted the coal industry, but it’s also contributed to an environment where we have decreased competition among insurance companies.”

Jim Henderson, Deputy Director of Kentucky Association of Counties (KACo), says the overhaul is needed because counties are facing increased workers comp costs at a time that they can least afford it.

“As costs increase and, or, rules or laws change that make it more expensive to offer workers comp, these costs are directly passed on to our members,” Henderson said. “Local governments have only one place to pass on their costs, and that’s the taxpayer.”

Kentucky AFL-CIO President Bill Londrigan spoke against the legislation saying that the number of claims has dropped over the years, and the legislation is nothing more than an attack on working men and women who have been injured on the job.

“The demonstrated outcomes, based on credible data sources, reveals a system that has shown large improvement over past performance and accident rates, premiums, and insurer revenues is functioning at its most efficient level in memory, that is with one exception, injured workers have not shared in the improvements and efficiencies that the workers compensation system has achieved,” Londrigan said. “Injured workers have not had an increase in benefits in 20 years and benefits are routinely challenged and often denied in a process that puts them in a complex legal system.”

Nicolai Jilek, president of the Louisville F.O.P. Lodge 614, spoke against the bill, reminded lawmakers that the most important thing that they can do for police officers is to make sure they are taken care of in the event of a serious debilitating injury.

“We already face a workers comp system that routinely denies needed medicine for medical treatment,” Jilek. “House Bill 2 adds additional hurdles to those of us injured in the line of duty who already pray for the bare minimum of even diagnostic procedures, much less appropriate care.”

Skylar Graudick, a Louisville police officer, also spoke against the legislation reminding lawmakers what an officer goes through as they protect Kentucky’s citizens.

House Bill 2 moves on to the full Senate for consideration.

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