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Workers’ Comp Reform Receives Haslam Signature

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; May 7, 2013:

CLARKSVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today held a ceremonial bill signing at Clarksville Foundry, Inc. for his workers’ compensation reform legislation, HB 194/SB 200, approved by the General Assembly.

Workers’ compensation premium rates for employers in Tennessee are higher than the national average and higher than all of Tennessee’s bordering states, and the state is one of only two that adjudicated workers’ compensation claims in the trial courts, often delaying benefits to employees and producing inconsistent results.

The governor’s bill simplifies the system while allowing employees to receive benefits faster and return to work sooner, bringing increased predictability to the business environment.

“As I traveled the state during my first two years in office, I heard consistently from Tennesseans that reforming workers’ compensation would be a significant step toward improving our business climate and growing jobs,” Haslam said. “Our legislation brings clarity and fairness to the system and builds on our ongoing efforts to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

The legislation

  • Provides disability benefits to an injured worker quicker;
  • Improves the quality of medical treatment;
  • Provides a clearer standard for causation and a neutral application of the law;
  • Allows employees to file claims in a court within the Division of Workers’ Compensation rather than trial court;
  • And creates a new ombudsman program in the division to help unrepresented employees and employers receive the assistance they need.

The bill was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland).

Turner: In 2013 ‘One Major Victory After Another’ in GOP’s ‘War’ on Workers

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; April 12, 2013:

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee State House on Thursday passed a series of bills that will weaken rights and lower wages for Tennessee’s workforce. During the nearly four hour session, House Republicans voted to radically change the state workers’ compensation system and do away with the prevailing wage for construction workers.

“This year has been one major victory after another in the Republican Party’s war on working people in the state of Tennessee,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “The wealthy special interests have certainly gotten their money’s worth this year and it will be working families that have to pay the price for their indifference and greed.”

The Governor’s workers’ compensation changes will reduce payouts to injured workers by 1/3, make it easier to fire injured workers, and make it harder for workers to collect legitimate claims. In addition, the new law puts the appeals process out of the hands of local courts and into a new state-appointed bureaucracy underneath the beleaguered Department of Labor. Democrats had requested the Governor delay this legislation in response to the Comptroller audit which showed “internal controls…were ineffective or non-existent” with regard to the state’s unemployment insurance system.

“These are short-sighted changes that will result in more workplace injuries and higher rates of bankruptcy for injured workers,” said Chairman Turner. “All the while, these new changes do nothing to address the higher medical costs in Tennessee which are the reason our workers’ comp rates were higher in the first place.”

Also passing on Thursday was HB850 by Rep. Marsh (R-Shelbyville) which will eliminate prevailing wage protections for construction workers on state contracts. The prevailing wage law was designed to prevent contractors from undercutting competition by driving down wages on workers. If the Governor signs this legislation into law; lower paid and lower skilled workers will be used to complete projects, causing delays and infrastructure problems down the road.

“Working people in this state are being driven down further and further as Republicans try to win a race to the bottom in wages, benefits, and job protections for Tennesseans,” said Chairman Turner. “Unfortunately, many working families in this state won’t realize the damage that has been done until it’s too late.”

Legislature Approves TN Workers’ Comp Overhaul

Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s workers’ compensation reform legislation passed the state House of Representatives Thursday, 68-24. The bill now heads to his desk to be signed into law.

The House moved to concur with Senate Bill 200, where the bill passed by a vote of 28-2, with little discussion earlier this month. Only one Democrat – Rep. Charles Curtiss of Sparta – broke rank with the House minority party in voting against the legislation that expands the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development to oversee a process formerly handled by the courts.

“This bill is truly an overhaul of the system designed to make fundamental changes to avoid having to do it again in a few years,” said Rep. Kevin Brooks, who presented House Bill 194 to the body. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, is the bill’s prime sponsor. In the Senate it was Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville.

Brooks predicts 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.

Currently, the Volunteer State is one of only three states that adjudicate workers’ comp claims in courts. The legislation does away with the court system — but without any reduction of employees in the state’s 95 Chancery Courts located in each county, Democratic Leader Rep. Craig Fitzhugh noted.

Democrats complained that the legislation does not address the medical costs associated with workers’ comp. Opponents have claimed throughout the bill’s largely party-line trek to passage 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.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rep. Mike Turner wondered from where the cost-savings in the new system will come. Brooks said “streamlining the process” will result in lower employer insurance premiums.

Turner said he suspects any real savings will come from lower payments to disabled-on-the-job employees. “We’re taking money out of the workers’ pocket. That’s not right. It’s not fair,” said the Old Hickory lawmakers, a firefighter who has served 13 years in the House. “We’re going to pass the savings onto business people. I’ve never seen a bill that tears at my heart like this one does.”

“I hope you understand what you know what you’re doing if you vote for this bill. We’ll be back in three or four years doing this again,” said Turner, urging members to send the legislation to summer study and to “do it right.”

Fitzhugh offered six of the eight amendments from Democrats. However, each one failed, just as they did when he presented them in the Finance, Ways & Means Committee, due to tabling motions to kill each without discussion. In both situations, the tabling motions overwhelming passed along party lines.

Following the House session, Fitzhugh told TNReport.com that he tried to “have amendments that would just put a little more common sense in there.

“The problems I have with it are that people thinks it’s going to be reform, but it’s really not,” said the nine-term representative from Ripley. “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.”

Following the vote, Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, a union-backed organization that has fought against the legislation, said in a statement that “the House of Representatives has clearly shown that instead of being on the side of protecting the hardworking Tennesseans who elected them, they are on the side of special interests like big insurance companies and large corporations who already benefit from so many tax loopholes and giveaways.”

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.

TCA: House Should Say ‘Not Now’ to Haslam Workers Comp Request

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; April 9, 2013:

Nashville, Tenn. (April 9, 2013) – Tennessee Citizen Action issued the following statement calling on the State House of Representatives to delay the Governor’s push for changes to Workers’ Comp this week:

“The Governor’s assertion in the Tennessean today* that his proposed changes to workers’ comp law and the mismanagement within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development are unrelated is bizarre. The Governor is in charge of both administrative appointments as well as the effective use of taxpayer dollars. It was his choice for administrator of the Department of Labor that led directly to the mismanagement and waste of taxpayer dollars within the department. Now he wants the State House of Representatives to give him the sole authority to appoint an administrator to handle all workers’ comp claims and put that administrator under the Department of Labor?

In light of what we have learned, The Tennessee House of Representatives’ response on Thursday to the Governor’s request to give him the sole authority over the workers’ comp administrative decisions this year should be “Not now, Governor.”

Background:

Findings of the State Comptroller’s Single Audit Report detailing mismanagement, fraud and abuse within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development have surfaced. The Reports states: “The Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s management has threatened the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance Program by failing to provide sufficient internal controls and oversight.” Among the findings include overpayment of $73 million in jobless benefits, administrative delays that left employees bereft of an appeals process, and employers getting charged too much in unemployment premiums paid to the state.

Governor Bill Haslam is pushing changes that will take workers’ comp claims out of the impartial court system and put them directly under the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (HB194 & SB200), beginning in 2014.

Sources:

TCA: Haslam Gives Another ‘Non-Answer’ on Dept. of Labor ‘Mismanagement’

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; April 3, 2013:

GOVERNOR’S ANSWER ON MISMANAGEMENT WITHIN DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT IS YET ANOTHER NON-ANSWER

Nashville, Tenn. (April 3, 2013) – Yesterday, in response to the call from Tennessee Citizen Action, the AFL-CIO of Tennessee, and several legislators to put the brakes on his proposed changes to workers’ comp law that will create a new division under the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the Governor said that he thought “the comptroller’s audit had no bearing on workers’ comp.” His full statement given during a press availability: “I think it’s a whole separate deal. One of those is about processing claims, and one of them is about adjudicating workers’ comp issues, so those are two very, very different issues. They’re in the same department, I admit, but they’re two very different issues.”

“We’ve heard this sort of non-answer answer before from Governor Haslam,” said Mary Mancini, executive director, Tennessee Citizen Action, “Instead of thoughtfully reconsidering his decision to add yet another division to the troubled Department of Labor, the Governor’s non-answer indicates his choice to trivialize and isolate the findings of the report and detach his public policy decisions from the mismanagement identified within the report.”

Governor Haslam is pushing to create a new multimillion-dollar workers’ comp division housed within the troubled Department of Labor and Workforce Development that has also in recent weeks seen it’s top management resign for “family reasons” and about which the Comptroller’s Single Audit Report said the “management has threatened the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance Program by failing to provide sufficient controls and oversight.”

The report found problems within 11 different state agencies and universities, and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development was the subject of 25% of the problems.

“If he wants to be honest, it’s not just the Department of Labor that has issues, it’s also 10 other agencies within his government,” said Wil Hammond, Communications Director, AFL-CIO of TN, “If anything, the mismanagement is worse than he is willing to admit to. This is clearly not the right time to add more responsibilities to an agency that can’t handle the load they have now.”

Tennessee Citizen and the AFL-CIO of Tennessee once again call on Governor Haslam to delay the creation of a new workers’ comp authority under the Department of Labor until he has had a chance to clean up department and the Comptroller has a chance to issue the 2013 Single Audit Report in 2014.

Source: TNReport.com

Workers’ Comp Rewrite Rolls Through Senate, Bearing Down on House Floor

While Gov. Bill Haslam’s workers’ compensation reform bill has had bumpy hearings in House committees, the track was clear and the ride mostly smooth on the Senate floor Monday night as SB200 passed 28-2.

Currently, the Volunteer State is one of only three states that adjudicate workers’ compensation claims in court. If the legislation passes, an independent agency run by an administrator chosen by the governor would oversee the process.

Supporters say the new system will process claims faster and cost less while opponents say it doesn’t address the real issue of higher medical costs and that workers will receive smaller awards and have more difficulty getting claims approved.

WorkmansComp

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, of Collierville, who carried the bill in the upper chamber, said he feels the reforms “are not only going to keep Tennessee competitive, but are going to benefit the workers of this state.”

Only Sen. Doug Overbey rose to speak in opposition to the sweeping legislation, which House Democratic leaders called “just wrong,” “shameful” and “immoral” during a show of solidarity with labor-union protesters on the steps of the Capitol last Tuesday.

“There are many good provisions in this bill,” said the Maryville Republican. “The part of the legislation I’m troubled about, though, is the part where we are creating new positions in state government.”

Overbey named 28 new positions outlined in the bill’s fiscal note, noting that there are already “spread all across the state” court clerks to file claims and judges “who have been adjudicating these claims since the workers’ compensation law came into effect.

“So my problem is that we have the processes in place in the status quo. If we were making only the substantive changes, or many of the substantive changes, I could support those, but to create all of these new positions, I cannot support it,” he continued.

While less concerned about the size of state government, groups opposing the reforms have raised similar doubts about the wisdom of moving the dispute resolution process away from the court system. The governor’s plan would place the new agency under the state Department of Labor, the subject of recent negative attention. A state comptroller’s audit found the DOL issued $73.4 million in overpaid unemployment benefits over the past six years.

Mary Mancini, of Tennessee Citizen Action, a group fighting the legislation, cited the comptroller’s findings Tuesday, telling TNReport that the DOL’s poor handling of unemployment benefits should give lawmakers pause.

“It’s being mismanaged, and it’s just completely plagued with problems now,” Mancini said of the Department of Labor. “It doesn’t make sense to add this entirely new system, an entirely new department within there without them fixing what’s wrong with it first. This is not good for working people and their families. It’s certainly not good for the state of Tennessee.”

Asked about these concerns Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Haslam told reporters that he thought the comptroller’s audit had no bearing on workers’ comp.

“I think it’s a whole separate deal,” Haslam said. “One of those is about processing claims, and one of them is about adjudicating workers’ comp issues, so those are two very, very different issues. They’re in the same department, I admit, but they’re two very different issues.

During discussion on the Senate floor, Sen. Jack Johnson noted that most of the new positions added under the bill would be converted from existing positions.

“For example, 20 existing attorney positions in the workers’ compensation division will convert to 16 workers’ compensation judge positions, as well as one chief judge position and three administrative review board judge positions,” said the Republican from Franklin.

Johnson did not address Overbey’s other concerns, that an administrator would appoint the judges deciding claims and that payments to injured workers who return to work would not be much higher than payments to those who do not.

“I am concerned there is not an incentive to get employees back to work, which is a very important incentive under the status quo,” Overbey concluded. He, along with Democratic Sen. Lowe Finney, of Jackson, both voted no, while Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield, of Knoxville, and Democratic Sen. Jim Kyle, of Memphis, did not vote at all.

At the protest rally last week, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said the legislation would create “another administrative branch, basically, to government, which is something that we certainly don’t need to do. We have the court system that’s working well.”

The Ripley representative also noted that the real costs to employers “are coming from medical costs, and this bill doesn’t even touch those at all. It only looks at the already reduced benefits to an injured employee.”

On Tuesday, HB194, the companion to SB200, passed the House Finance, Ways & Means Committee along party lines. The bill is now headed to the House Calendar & Rules Committee.

Despite his best efforts, the six amendments offered by Fitzhugh all failed without discussion. Each one was met with a tabling motion to kill it without discussion.

Saying that he supported previous workers’ comp reforms, Fitzhugh urged committee members to not pass the bill, but to study it and look at the medical costs involved, which he believes “are the real drivers of cost in Tennessee.”

He also stated that he didn’t think that now is the appropriate time “to ramp up an entire new department,” given that the Department of Labor and Workforce Development is without a commissioner.

John Klein Wilson contributed to this story.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.

House Dems, Labor Advocates Request Haslam Delay Workers Comp Overhaul

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; April 2, 2013:

House Democrats are joining with workers’ advocates to ask Governor Haslam to delay HB194 until 2014, until the Department of Labor can get its house in order

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats joined with workers’ advocates today to call on Governor Bill Haslam to delay the workers’ comp overhaul package until 2014. This call comes after a report by the Tennessee Comptroller which shows gross mismanagement in the Department of Labor, the division of government that would be tasked with taking over the workers compensation review process under Gov. Haslam’s proposal.

“The lives of too many working people in Tennessee are at stake for the Governor to rush through drastic changes to the workers’ compensation system,” said State Rep. Joe Towns (R-Memphis). “If we get this wrong, or the Department of Labor can’t handle the workload, the families of working men and women will go hungry as we sort out these new changes.”

The House Finance Ways & Means Committee is scheduled to hear HB194, the Governor’s proposed overhaul of the workers’ compensation system, today at 3PM. This legislation would take workers’ compensation claims out of the hands of an impartial court system, and turn it over a new bureaucracy within the Department of Labor.

“It is time for Governor Haslam to pump the breaks on this runaway freight train,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “This is an incredibly complex system that we are completely changing and it has simply sailed through the legislature with very little overview or review. Working families will suffer if we don’t slow down and get this right.”

On March 28, Comptroller Justin Wilson released a scathing report which showed that the Department of Labor’s “internal controls…were ineffective or non-existent” with regards to the state’s unemployment insurance system. Democrats worry that the same mismanagement could result in injured workers being denied legitimate claims, which could cause working families to go hungry or homeless as a result of the changes to our workers’ compensation system.

House Dem Leaders Join Protest Against Haslam’s Workers’ Comp Revamp

A few dozen people, including members of the Tennessee AFL-CIO and other labor groups, gathered on the steps of the state Capitol Tuesday afternoon to express their opposition Gov. Haslam’s proposed changes to workers’ compensation.

The ralliers, waving signs and chanting “Save Workers’ Comp,” were joined by Democratic leaders from the state House of Representatives who address the crowd and promised to continue to oppose the reform measure, House Bill 194, sponsored by Republican Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner had strong words for the governor and GOP supermajority on the matter, calling the legislation “just wrong,” “shameful” and “immoral.”

“This administration and this legislature have cut every tax they could cut on the wealthy and they’re paying for it on the backs of working people,” said the Old Hickory Democrat. “This workers comp bill is just one more example of that and it may be the worst of all that I have seen.”

Among a myriad of changes to current workers’ comp policy, the proposed overhaul would tighten the definitions of workplace injury, change the way benefits are calculated, and move the final say in adjudicating disputed claims from the courts to a governor-appointed panel.

Opponents argue that the net effect of the legislation would be to reduce benefits for workers who are injured on the job. Supporters contend that a revamp is needed to help Tennessee compete in attracting companies.

In a video posted on the governor’s Youtube channel last month, Haslam called the current workers’ comp system “outdated” and said the changes would help both workers and businesses by simplifying the process. “This system will help employees to receive their benefits faster…At the same time, it will give employers more certainty in what has been a complex, unpredictable and often inefficient process,” Haslam said. “This proposal builds on our ongoing efforts to make sure that we have an attractive business climate that encourages investment in Tennessee.”

During his state-of-the-state address two months ago, Haslam linked his plans for workers’ compensation changes to his legislative push to cap civil lawsuits during his first year in office.

“To provide certainty to businesses, we overhauled our tort laws,” the governor told lawmakers at the Jan. 28  joint session of the General Assembly. “To build on those efforts, this year we’re proposing legislation to reform our worker’s compensation laws. During my first year in office, I held business roundtables across the state where we heard from businesses over and over that worker’s comp is an issue in Tennessee. We spent last year working with stakeholders to find ways to improve our system with a focus on fairness to both the employee and employer, and we believe the worker’s comp bill we’re proposing does just that.”

But House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh, echoing an argument often heard from lawmakers on the other side of the aisle, told ralliers that Haslam’s plan in fact creates more government red tape.

The bill, argued the Ripley lawmaker, would add “another administrative branch, basically, to government which is something that we certainly don’t need to do. We have the court system that’s working well–we’re going to put another agency on top of this that;s not well-thought-out, that’s not funded and can only have bad circumstances.”

Fitzhugh also expressed concern that the governor’s plan was being rushed through the legislature without examining all facets of the issue. “The costs [to employers] are coming from medical costs and this bill doesn’t even touch those at all, it only looks at the already-reduced benefits to an injured employee,” Fitzhugh told the crowd.

Rally participants vowed to keep trying to persuade Haslam to drop his push on the legislation, moving the event indoors to present the governor’s office with a thick stack of letters from workers in the state expressing their opposition. But it appears unlikely that the measure will face much resistance as it moves through the Republican-dominated Legislature.

The house version of the bill has survived three committee votes and is scheduled to go before the Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee Wednesday. The Senate version, SB200, has been sent to the Calendar Committee for scheduling on the Senate floor.

TCA: Haslam Workers Comp Proposal Creates ‘Disposable Workforce’

Press release from Tennessee Citizen Action; March 26, 2013:

Nashville, Tenn. (March 26, 2013) – Today at a rally in front of the state capitol, Tennessee Citizen Action, the AFL-CIO of Tennessee, the Jackson Central Labor Council, the Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council, the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle-Tennessee, along with various other local unions, community organizations, and workers who have been injured on the job called on Governor Bill Haslam to stop his proposed changes that will gut workers’ compensation. The bill, which is part of the Governor’s legislative package, will leave hardworking men and women with less to take care of their families when they are injured on the job and remove incentives for employers to keep injured workers healthy and on the job.

The proposed changes to workers’ comp will not only cut insurance payouts to workers when they are injured on the job, but also will create a new bureaucracy completely controlled by the Governor and remove workers’ comp cases from impartial court system. Worst of all, it will allow employers to “throwaway” Injured employees.

“This legislative majority is no friend to working people,” said Jerry Winters of the AFL-CIO of Tennessee, “The blatant attacks on worker’s compensation, living wages, unemployment insurance, and retirement benefits are aimed right at the very people who keep Tennessee’s economy moving. It is time for workers to stand up and say enough is enough!”

As they consider Governor Haslam’s changes to workers’ compensation, the legislative majority have a choice to make: they can either do the bidding of the Governor and side with special interests like big insurance companies or they can fight to protect the hardworking Tennesseans who elected them.

“So far we have packed several legislative hearing rooms on Capitol Hill to make sure lawmakers know Governor Haslam’s proposed changes to workers’ comp will hurt hardworking Tennesseans and their families,” said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, “Since they are not paying attention, now it’s time to deliver the message directly to Governor Haslam.”

Tennessee Citizen Action works in the public interest as Tennessee’s premier consumer rights organization.

Governor’s Workers’ Comp Revamp Chugging Forward

Gov. Bill Haslam’s pro-business workers’ compensation reform legislation sailed through committees in the House and Senate last week and is headed for the next round of hearings in both chambers this week.

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge

Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, chair of the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee, said the “Workers’ Compensation Reform Act of 2013” must pass through four more committees before reaching the House floor.

“I’d like to see this bill go to give all the members of the Tennessee General Assembly on the House side the opportunity to engage in the conversation and good debate on this important piece of legislation,” said the Republican from Jackson.

Despite its passage, it was clear not every member of Eldridge’s committee thinks the bill addresses the issues businesses say are driving costs upward.Tennessee workers' comp bill

“Where we’re messing up is in our medical costs. This bill doesn’t address that at all,” Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner told the committee. “I don’t care what they tell you, they’re not telling you the whole truth about this bill.”

House Bill 194 passed the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee along party lines, 7-3. Its companion, SB 200, sailed through the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee, 9-0.

Jeff Bates, managing partner of TA Staffing in Nashville, and Brian Hunt, general manager of Southern Champion Tray in Chattanooga, both addressed the House committee in favor of the reforms.

Bates said 10 percent of the claims his company sees take 75 percent of money paid out for workers’ comp.

“You have to protect the truly injured worker, but at the same time you can’t have lingering claims controlling and bogging down the system to the point where it costs three to four times as much to settle a claim in Tennessee as it does in other states,” Bates said.

Hunt said 70 percent of the injuries at his company are “categorized as strains and sprains. They also account for 79 percent of our compensation dollars.” He noted that over the past five years the company has shelled out indemnity payments totaling nearly $1 million.

Rep. Kevin Brooks, who presented the bill on behalf of House sponsor Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, said these issues emerged from a two-year study:

  • Tennessee’s rates are higher than neighboring states.
  • Employees are being harmed by lengthy delays in the current system.
  • Employers and employees are having trouble “navigating what is a complex and difficult workmans’ compensation system.”

Rocky McElhaney, a Nashville attorney who spoke on behalf of the Tennessee Association for Justice, said higher costs were a “red herring” to distract from harm to workers.

Rocky McElhaney

Rocky McElhaney

“Since the 2004 reforms, benefits paid to injured workers in Tennessee have already decreased 41 percent,” McElhaney said. “We’re paying workers less on average than our competing states.”

McElhaney said payments to physicians are actually what’s driving costs. He said state statistics showing how long cases take to adjudicate were skewed because only a sampling of cases were used.

In 2012 cases took 166 days start-to-finish on average, down from 309 days in 2008, McElhaney said, citing data from the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Rep. Glen Casada disputed the claim that the bill is heavily skewed toward employers.

“We as legislators must look at the macro of this, which is when Goodyear leaves, and their number one statement on why they left was workmans’ comp costs,” the Franklin Republican said. “All of a sudden, we’re not looking at dozens, we’re looking at 1,900 that are no longer here in Tennessee working.

“If that were to have a ripple effect, Bridgestone, Nissan – and I could go down the list – all of a sudden thousands of folks that work no longer have jobs in Tennessee. That is my concern.”   

HB 194 goes before the House Government Operations Committee Tuesday. SB 200 goes before the Senate Government Operations Committee Wednesday.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.