Woodward, Okla. —
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Overrunning passionate opposition from legislative Democrats, House Republicans cleared the way toward remaking Oklahoma's workers' compensation system by passing an overhaul bill Wednesday.
The House approved the bill 74-24; most of the Democrats present voted against it. It now gets kicked back to the Senate, as the House made extensive changes to the Senate's version.
The 284-page measure turns Oklahoma's court-run compensation system into an administrative system run by three governor-appointed commissioners. Republican proponents have repeatedly said the present judicial system pits workers against employers and leads to drawn-out and expensive claims.
The change would bring Oklahoma's system in line with those in all but one other state. Several Republican leaders have been hashing out the bill's details for more than a month and said it would save Oklahoma businesses millions of dollars. They fended off several Democratic attempts to amend the plan Wednesday.
"There is no perfect," said Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, who carried the bill for Speaker T. W. Shannon. "But I believe, with the working group we've brought together, this will be beneficial to the workers and employers of this state."
Democrats blasted the bill, often accusing Republicans of achieving purported savings by slashing employee benefits. Permanent partial disability payments, for example, would be provided for less than seven years compared to the current system's nine years.
Many Democrats found particular fault with the bill's opt-out provisions, which would allow employers to provide their own workers' compensation as long as they meet the state system's minimum benefits.
"The bottom line is this: The savings come from the pockets of the injured workers and their families — those people who don't have a lobbyist up here," said Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman.