Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has signed the workers’ compensation reform legislation his administration pushed through the state’s General Assembly.
Haslam on Monday put official gubernatorial endorsement to Senate Bill 200, “The Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Reform Act.” The bill swept through both chambers of the General Assembly, largely following a GOP-dominated party-line trek.
The American Insurance Association was quick to issue a press release applauding Haslam after the signing of the bill. “AIA applauds Gov. Haslam for signing SB 200 into law and for his continued leadership throughout the legislative process,” said Ron Jackson, AIA Southeast region vice president. “The Act is the right approach to providing much needed reform to Tennessee’s workers’ compensation system.”
The new law will make the Volunteer State the 48th to no long adjudicate workers’ comp claims in court. Instead, the law creates a new state agency with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, whose administrator will be chosen by the governor.
In anticipation of the July 1,2014 effective date, certain portions of the law go into effect immediately, such as those for the adoption of rules and the appointment of personnel to staff the new agency.
Rep. Kevin Brooks presented House Bill 194 to the lower chamber on behalf of House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, the bill’s prime sponsor.
Brooks predicted that the primary gains for employees will be fewer delays, better medical treatment, claim processes that are easier to follow and support from the workers’ comp division when problems arise. Gains for employers include cost reductions, predictability and more efficient claim handling, said the Bradley County Republican.
Democrats, who fought the bill throughout its movement in the General Assembly, complained that the legislation does not address the medical costs associated with workers’ comp. Opponents claimed that the high cost of health care is the reason Tennessee’s costs continue to rise, while those in the surrounding eight states continue to fall.
Following the House session, where members concurred with the Senate version, before passing 68-24, Democratic Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh told TNReport.com “people think it’s going to be reform, but it’s really not.”
“I’m afraid we’ll see it in a year or two and have to do something else with it. I don’t think this is going to turn out to be something very positive,” said the nine-term representative from Ripley.
Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, carried the bill in the Senate, where it passed 28-2 with little discussion.