Tag Archives: Legislative Changes

Groups Oppose Legislation Aimed to Change Wisconsin’s Advisory Council

Wisconsin’s Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council serves as the driving force behind the state’s historically stable and first-rate work comp system.  Wisconsin gets its injured workers back to work faster than virtually all states in the country.  We have extremely low litigation rates (a recent study showed only 13% of work injuries require an attorney).  We have stable and falling work comp insurance premiums–an 8% decrease for 2017.  

These are the marks of a great work comp system thanks to the Advisory Council.

So, of course, some legislators want to blow it up!   This is a classic example of a fix looking for a problem!

Republican legislators recently introduced legislation (AB 308) to drastically alter the makeup of the Advisory Council.  Traditionally, the Advisory Council’s makeup is five management, five labor, and three non-voting insurance members appointed by Secretary of Dept. of Workforce Development (DWD).  After Council deliberations, they produce a biennial “agreed upon” bill, which is then submitted to lthe egislature that, in turn, generally accepts the bill.   As the DWD site proudly prounces:

One of the most important and enduring principles of the Council is maintaining the overall stability of the worker’s compensation system without regard to partisan changes in the legislative or executive branches of government. The Council provides a vehicle for labor and management representatives to play a direct role in recommending changes in the worker’s compensation law to the Legislature.

The 2017 introduced bill proposes to alter only the makeup of the “labor” side of the Council.  The proposal would reduce the amount of organized labor representatives on the Council in proportion to the amount of unionized workers in the state.  

When a hearing occurred last week on this bill in the assembly labor committee, the legislature faced overwhelming opposition to this measure.   A story on WorkCompCentral (Stakeholders Line Up Against Bill Aimed at Reducing Union Role on Advisory Council) detailed that opposition from the system’s stakeholders–including a broad array of the insurance company community.   The insurance companies know that any major change to the Council could create uncertainty in the system.  With uncertainty, there is risk.  With risk, there are increased costs and insurance premiums.

There is no need to change the current Council makeup, especially in light of the beneficial metrics the current system produced–and continues to produce.  The five organized labor representatives continue to be the best representatives–with the broadest expertise and breath of knowledge–for all workers, whether unionized or not.   

We hope this proposed legislation is dead on arrival.  The Advisory Council system works for Wisconsin.  An attack on the Council is an attack on the system’s stability.

 

Recent Changes in Workers’ Comp Around the Country: Where Does Wisconsin Stack Up?

One of the benefits of participating in National organizations such as the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group (WILG) and the National College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers is finding out how your State stacks up against the rest. Some recent cases suggest a basis for comparison.

Wisconsin was the first constitutional workers’ compensation enacted in 1911 and many other states look to Wisconsin as a progressive beacon protecting the rights of injured workers. The wattage on the beacon has been diminished by the Scott Walker administration by dividing the Workers’ Compensation Division into two administrative agencies (in an alleged move at efficiency rather than duplicity, efforts to introduce fault into a “No- Fault” system, apportioning Permanent Partial Disability to ill-defined “other factors” such as diabetes, obesity, etc. and denying workers’ compensation claims for employee misconduct.)

Some recent events around the country suggest some trends that we may see in Wisconsin. Arkansas, for example, is considering a workers’ compensation “Opt Out” bill, which would allow employers to provide less strict “alternative” medical treatment and benefits for injured workers. Similar attempts have been made in Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Wisconsin, due to its Republican controlled governorship and Senate and Assembly, was also on the “hit list” of states that might be susceptible to opt out.  As of right now (and especially given the failings of “opt out” in Oklahoma, there appears to be no Wisconsin appetite for opt out).

Other quick hitting, interesting comparisons/trends from around the country:

  • An injured undocumented worker in Kansas has been awarded workers’ compensation benefits. The woman’s employer argued she should be denied workers’ compensation because she falsified employment documents. Currently in Wisconsin, undocumented workers are allowed almost all workers’ compensation benefits (expect for vocational rehabilitation benefits since there is a federal benefits component to those claims).
  • A worker in Illinois who lost his finger in a workplace accident could not sue the workplace where he was placed by his temporary staffing firm. (Wisconsin has a similar provision protecting the “borrowing” employer that contracts with a temporary staffing agency.)
  • In Alaska, three companies working an a multi-employer construction site were cited almost a million dollars for safety violations on a power plant expansion project. Since these were “willful” violations, the penalties were quite high. These findings again emphasize the extent to which employers, rather than employees, are most likely violating safety rules. In Wisconsin an employer who violates a safety rule resulting in a work injury for an employee pays a 15% penalty on top of the employee’s workers’ compensation benefits capped at $15,000.
  • In Ohio, current and retired firefighters suffering from various cancers will be able to collect workers’ compensation benefits based upon a presumption that the cancer is caused by their work exposure. Wisconsin has a similar provision for its employees regarding heart, lung, and other cancers (so long as the firefighter is not a smoker).
  • In Montana, a bill under consideration would bar benefits if the worker knowingly fails to disclose medical conditions pertinent to their job requirements. A similar provision was recently passed in Wisconsin, requiring disclosure of any pre-existing disabilities or impairments.
  • In Colorado, a bill was just introduced allowing first responders to seek benefits for PTSD without a corresponding physical injury. Wisconsin has a similar provision but the standard of “extraordinary stress” must be met for a non-traumatic emotional or mental injury.
  • In Pennsylvania, a man disabled following Legionnaires disease, which he said was caused by exposure to contaminated water while performing his job was entitled to workers’ compensation and medical benefits.
  • Wisconsin has no specifically enumerated diseases which are automatically compensable, but where the occupational exposure causing disability is a material contributory causative factor is compensable (one of the cases handled years ago by the Domer Law firm “quantified” the component of occupational exposure at less than 5%).

Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council Bill Introduced!

The Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council has done what it always does: modifies and improves on the Worker’s Compensation Act.  The Advisory Council once again produced a common sense reform bill that was recently introduced into the legislature.

The Bill (SB-536) is here:http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2015/related/proposals/sb536  Public hearings are now occurring on the Bill.   This is fantastic news.

Previous posts discussed the relevant provisions of the Advisory Council Bill.  The bill is a compromise–with benefits and concessions for employers and workers. Employers has provisions about addressing fraud in the system, denial of benefits for injuries connected to drug/alcohol violations, and ending of benefits for misconduct terminations.  In turn, workers have some modest increases in annual benefits and easier access to vocational retraining claims and benefits.  These compromises produce common sense reforms and improvements to the work comp system. 

The hope and goal is that the Wisconsin legislature swiftly passes the Council bill.  Passage of the Advisory Council bill preserves the integrity and stability of the worker’s compensation system–a system that is the nation’s gold standard.

Message to Wisconsin Legislators: Hands Off the Advisory Council

For the last 40 years, the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council advises the Worker’s Compensation Department and the Legislature on policy matters concerning the development and administration of the worker’s compensation law.  Overall, the Council has been an unequivocal success.  Unlike the volatility found in other states, the Wisconsin Council maintains the overall stability of the worker’s compensation system without regard to partisan changes in the legislative or executive branches of government.  The Council provides a vehicle for labor and management representatives to play a direct role in recommending changes in the worker’s compensation law to the legislature.  This year Republican legislators have already muddled up the Unemployment Compensation Advisory Council, making recommendations that have rolled back unemployment compensation standards which have been in place for decades. 

Recent news indicated that Republican legislators are questioning the use of the Council in the worker’s compensation system.  These Republican politicans, including Dan Knodl, the Chair of the Legislature’s Labor Committee, have indicated they plan to send recommendations to the Council on possible cost saving changes.  Those “cost savings” were part of the budget process in which the legislature made changes to the Unemployment Compensation program, reducing benefits to employees without the support of the Labor and Management Advisory Council. 

 

The Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council, composed of five management, five labor, and three non-voting insurance members appointment by the Secretary of the Department of Workforce Development and chaired by a Department employee, meets regularly at different sites around Wisconsin.  The public is welcome at these meetings to offer their concerns.  The Council obtains input from various worker’s compensation constituents including interested members of the legal, medical, labor, management, insurance, and employer communities.  Hearings on proposed changes are held followed by Advisory Council deliberation.  With input from all of these sources, the Council attempts to produce a well-balanced bill.    

As a general rule, business and insurance interests thrive on stability and known costs.  The Council’s work provides this certainty for the players in the worker’s compensation system.  In the interests of appearing “business friendly”, a Republican end run outside of the Council may actually produce the exact opposite effect—uncertain and fluctuating premiums, costs, and legal issues.The Council has always produced an “agreed upon bill” which results in annual changes in benefit rates and substantive law.  The bill proceeds to the Labor Committees and the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate where, after passage, the Governor signs the bill into law.  This process has worked and created stability in Wisconsin for many decades, a system that other states can only envy.  The successful Advisory Council process should not be altered by outside influence from the legislature.