Column by Fred Morgan, President & CEO of the State Chamber, published in the Journal Record on February 1, 2019
Gov. Kevin Stitt campaigned on a platform of reforming state government, and we couldn’t agree more. As we look to implement new reforms, it is important to protect vital reforms already in place – those that have been working and bringing relief to our state for years.
The State Chamber of Oklahoma exists to protect the business community from harmful legislation, including legislation that undermines previous reforms.
In 2013, the State Chamber was instrumental in passing landmark reform of our workers’ compensation system. The old system was inefficient, slow and expensive. Oklahoma employers paid a billion dollars into this flawed system in 2013 alone and many businesses struggled to even afford coverage. At that time, the state’s premiums were sixth highest in the nation, making business expansion and recruitment to our state very difficult. Oklahoma employees paid a hefty price, too. Injured workers were kept waiting in a system that did not prioritize their need to get back to work in a timely manner.
So, who would want to go back to this old system? Some lawyers, of course. In fact, the same lawyers who profited from the old system have filed numerous legal challenges to the new legislation to weaken the reforms. Thankfully, few of the challenges have had a serious impact. That doesn’t mean they have given up. This year, more than 25 bills have been filed affecting the workers’ compensation system, including some that seek to undermine this successful reform.
When the Republicans gained control of the House in 2004, reforming the workers’ comp system was a top priority. However, some of the bills filed this year would make so many changes to the Administrative Workers’ Compensation Act that it seems that the entire intent is to roll back the hard-fought reforms.
Since the 2013 reforms to the workers’ compensation system in Oklahoma, businesses across the state have saved close to $330 million. Where we previously had the sixth-highest cost of insurance premiums in the entire United States, we are now more competitively ranked at 24th.
There is still work to be done, but we must protect the reforms to keep Oklahoma a competitive place where businesses can thrive. Please contact your legislators and let them know you do not support going back to an expensive, inefficient workers’ compensation system that unreasonably awards attorneys at the expense of employees and business owners.