Lawmakers pass major workers’ compensation reform bill
Tennessee lawmakers continued to make progress on Capitol Hill this week acting on several key bills, including a major workers’ compensation reform legislation. However, the biggest legislative hurdle before adjournment later this month is the state’s budget.
Governor Bill Haslam sent additions to his proposed 2013-2014 budget to the Senate Finance Committee this week for consideration. The supplemental appropriations amendment is customarily introduced in the final weeks of the legislative session each year for consideration and approval by the General Assembly. It includes additional funding to the governor’s budget based on new revenue projections from the State Funding Board. Notable funding priorities in the governor’s budget amendment include:
- $5.2 million in additional revenue from the tobacco settlement for a total of $43.1 million to support Healthy Tennessee;
- $1.37 million restored for the Department of Mental Health and SubstanceAbuseServicesPeerSupportCenters;
- $225,700 restored for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities for positions in West, Middle and East Tennessee;
- $250,000 more to Family Violence Shelters;
- $1 million grant for University of Tennessee, Martin Parsons Campus nursing program;
- $44.6 million for the state’s Fast Track Job Training Assistance Program;
- $1.26 million for infrastructure at RockyForkState Park;
- $3 million for State Library and Archives and StateMuseum planning;
- and $1 million for the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.
Senate Bill 502 , which authorizes the budget, will continue to be the main focus during the remainder of the 2013 legislative session. The bill is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville).
On workers’ compensation reform, the State Senate approved final passage of legislation to make the state more attractive to job creation, while protecting injured employees. Senate Bill 200, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), would cut costs to businesses, create more predictability, improve the efficiency of claims management, simplify the physician selection process for injured employees and reduce benefit delays to workers. The legislation comes as a result of two comprehensive studies tasked with identifying possible recommendations for improving the program.
“The primary gains for employees include fewer delays, better medical treatment, claims processing that is easier to follow and better support from the Workers’ Compensation Division when problems do arise,” said Senator Norris.
Highlights of the bill include:
- employees would file their claims in a newly created Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims, rather than going to a trial court;
- provides neutral application of the workers’ compensation law so that neither side has an unfair advantage;
- gives a clearer standard for causation to require that the injury arose primarily out of employment rather than non-work related activities;
- provides disability benefits for injured workers based on a maximum of 450 weeks instead of the current 400 weeks;
- modifies requirements for medical panels through development of advisory medical treatment guidelines by January 1, 2016 that are based on best practices in medical care for work-related injuries and / or illnesses; and
- creates a new Ombudsman program to help employees and employers who are unrepresented get the assistance they need.
“This bill would implement a system that is fair, efficient and better for both employees and employers,” said Senator Johnson. “Employees will receive benefits faster and in a manner that is easier to calculate, and they will be able to return to work sooner. Employers will have a fairer, more predictable environment in which to conduct business and create jobs.”
Currently, Tennessee is one of only two states in which workers’ compensation cases are settled primarily in the courts. In following, the state’s workers’ compensation premium costs are higher in Tennessee than in bordering states.