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Workers’ Comp Overhaul Signed, Takes Effect Summer 2014

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.”

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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.

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

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Press Releases

DCS Commissioner Tours SE Tennessee Facilities

Press Release from the State of TN DCS, August 18, 2011:

Children and Families Issues Are Matters Of The Heart

NASHVILLE -– Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) Commissioner Kathryn “Kate” O’Day, Commissioner of Department of Children’s Services, just has spent several days this week touring DCS facilities in Bradley and McMinn counties and meeting with employees, completed a two-day tour of Bradley and McMinn County visiting employees of Department of Children’s Services (DCS) offices.

“DCS is constantly working to improve to meet the needs of Tennesseans,” O’Day said. “Our employees are on the front lines of dealing with the serious issues that impact our children, and they can give me the best feedback on what processes and procedures are, or are not, working,” she added, “I’m very impressed by the commitment and professionalism exhibited by the employees at the McMinn and Bradley county offices.”

Additionally, she Local legislators joined the commissioner for these meetings to listen to the employees’ thoughts and concerns. They included Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), Rep. John Forgety (R-Athens) and Rep. Eric Watson (R-Cleveland). She also met with David Pierce, Ddirector of McMinn County Schools , and staff and toured the Bradley County Juvenile Justice Center.

Commissioner O ’Day also visited with Senator Mike Bell (R-Riceville), Representative Kevin Brooks (R- Cleveland), Representative John Forgety (R-Athens), and Representative Eric Watson (R-Cleveland). The legislators accompanied the Commissioner to their respective district’s DCS county office in order to talk with and listen to DCS state employees’ concerns and thoughts.  Brooks, vice-chairman of the Children and Family Affairs Committee, told the employees that he would share what he had learned with other members of the committee so they would have an idea of what he was able to learn from the meetings. “This has been a great experience for me, personally,” said Brooks. “The Committee deals with matters of the heart and these facilities carry out that work.”

The purpose of the meetings wasere designed to inform the Ccommissioner about real time problems the offices are facing so the Ddepartment can address the issues and ensure Tennesseans are receiving the high quality service they expect to receive. The Commissioner asked DCS employees questions like, “What are we doing right?” and, “What can we do better?”

“DCS provides an invaluable service to Tennesseans and we want to make sure we are constantly improving and meeting the needs of our citizens,” said Commissioner O’Day. “These workers are on the front lines and can give me the best feedback for what processes or procedures are, or are not, working.” She added, “I’m very impressed by the professionalism exhibited by the employees at the McMinn and Bradley county DCS offices.” The goal of reaching excellence in child welfare even with the current challenging economy can be done. O’Day often says “We have got to know what we are after, what works and get it right the FIRST time.”

Representative Kevin Brooks, vice-chair of the Children and Family Affairs Committee, told the employees that he wished the Committee could see and hear what he was witnessing. “This has been a great experience for me, personally,” he said. “The Committee deals with matters of the heart and these facilities carry out that work,” he said.