Last Tuesday (March 12, 2013), a new policy affecting workers’ compensation in Tennessee cleared its first full House committee. But not everyone agrees the bill is the right fix.
The new legislation, introduced by Gov. Bill Haslam, aims to improve the system for filing a workers’ comp claim by removing the jurisdiction of work injury cases from state courts, and directing them to a specifically-appointed commission.
Workers’ compensation in Tennessee has been highly inconsistent in recent years, leading to expensive lawsuits discouraging businesses from spending much-needed dollars by setting down roots in our state. Also, workers have not been given the compensation they deserve, causing many employees to find jobs elsewhere to protect themselves and their families.
These factors have led to judicial and economic problems, and lawmakers are seeking a solution to the growing problem of workers’ compensation in Tennessee.
To confront this growing concern, Gov. Haslam called for an extensive study of workers’ comp back in 2011. The study found that Tennessee rates are higher than neighboring states, employees who have filed a claim are negatively affected by extensive delays, and businesses and workers are overburdened by the current regulations.
In response, Gov. Haslam drafted and proposed his new plan, which outlines ways to improve the workers’ comp system in Tennessee by:
- Cutting costs to businesses
- Creating more stability
- Improving efficiency in handling claims
- Simplifying the physician selection process for injured workers
- Reducing delays that prevent employees from getting just compensation
Tennessee is one of the few remaining states that continue to handle workers’ comp cases through state courts rather than a commission, and by making a shift in how work injury claims are handled, Gov. Haslam hopes to fix the current model with his legislation.
However, opponents of the policy say that letting a commission judge on workers’ comp cases will favor businesses and insurance companies, rather than injured workers. They argue that Haslam’s bill will only make it easier to deny employees just compensation.
“In this new and insular system, decisions will become political instead of fair and impartial, susceptible to even more influence of special interests,” says Mary Mancini, Director of Tennessee Citizen Action, in an article published by The Tennessean. “The members of the General Assembly must get serious about strengthening Tennessee by saving workers’ comp and protecting the families of working folks. That means prioritizing working people and their families above the profits of special interests and large corporations.”
Read more about Gov. Haslam’s workers’ compensation bill here.