OKLAHOMA CITY – Bob Burke, an attorney, a historian and prolific author, skewered Oklahoma’s new workers’ compensation law during an appearance on New9’s “The Hot Seat.”
The previous law “went too far, awarding too much money” to injured employees, Burke told moderator Scott Mitchell. However, rather than “striking a balance,” the Republican-dominated Legislature and the Republican governor replaced it with a law that has swung the pendulum too far the opposite direction, Burke contends.
The new law, which was adopted in 2013, established an administrative workers’ compensation system alongside the Workers’ Compensation Court of Existing Claims. The new, separate system was created by Senate Bill 1062, which contained 172 sections and was 207 pages long. The courts have “thrown out” about a dozen unconstitutional provisions that were embedded in S.B. 1062, and 18 more appeals are pending in the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Burke said.
Burke believes the new law jeoparidzes “the grand bargain,” an unwritten but widely accepted pact, an injured worker surrendered the right to sue his/her employer for pain and suffering and/or for punitive damages, in exchange for “reasonable” benefits that included medical care and enough money to live on, paid for by employers and their insurance companies.
Supporters of the new system defend it passionately, saying it is driving better outcomes, more jobs, better benefits and cost savings.
Burke strongly disagrees with the new comp system’s defenders, saying, “I’m afraid the grand bargain has been breached.” The state is “cutting benefits to the bone” – in his analysis making them “the lowest in America.:
Burke contends that what’s needed is a workers’ compensation system that serves businesses and injured workers alike.
In another televised program airing this weekend, state Reps. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, and Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, debated the state Corporation Commission’s response to the spate of earthquakes rattling much of Oklahoma, the recent decision to allow independent voters to participate in state Democratic Party primary elections, and the latest bad PR (public relations) for the Oklahoma GOP: a photograph and commentary posted Wednesday on the Facebook page of the Oklahoma Federation of Republican Women which made the news before the federation’s leader removed it from the page.
Also on the “Your Vote Counts” program Sunday, the two legislators discuss the financial soundness of state government.
Osborn, R-Mustang, pointed out that although General Revenue Fund receipts for Fiscal Year 2015 came in slightly below estimate, FY ’15 tax collections actually surpassed FY ’14 revenues by $98.5 million. Oklahoma’s economy is growing, just not as much as had been projected, she maintained.
Oklahoma’s tax system “is all screwed up,” asserted Morrissette. “If we don’t watch out,” Oklahoma will find itself in a fiscal pickle as bad as the one in Kansas, he tells Mitchell. A deep cut in the state income tax resulted in a dramatic revenue shortfall for the Sunflower State.
“We’re headed for a train wreck,” Morrissette predicted.
The Legislature faced a $188 million budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2014, and a $611 million deficit in FY 2015. In addition, the next phase of the reduction in the state income tax, from 5.25 percent to 5 percent, goes into effect Jan. 1, 2016. The budget deficit for FY 2017 is projected to be $300 million or higher.
“The Hot Seat” aired at 7:50 a.m. Saturday on KWTV-9 (News9, the CBS affiliate) in Oklahoma City, and “Your Vote Counts” will be broadcast at 7:50 a.m. Sunday on KWTV.
Afterward, both 10-minute programs are streamed on the Internet.
NOTE: Editor Pat McGuigan contributed to this report.