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Are proposed changes to workers’ comp fair?

Staff Report • Mar 25, 2013 at 9:51 AM

Tennessee lawmakers are set to approve changes this year to the state’s workers’ compensation law that are being hailed by business leaders and derided by labor groups. The legislation, which is a major part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative package this year, is expected to face little debate in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

In fact, one high-ranking member of the GOP supermajority was heard recently telling constituents on an open microphone in the House Human Resources and Consumer Committee, which he chairs, that the legislation would “fly” though his committee.

I’m going to take care of that bill,” said state Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson. “That freight train is going ...”

As Press staff writer Gary B. Gray reported earlier this month, critics of the workers’ comp reform say it heavily benefits insurance companies and dramatically cuts money going to workers who suffer on-the-job injuries.

Supporters say the changes would increase public oversight of workers’ comp claims and removes private attorneys from the process.

One major component of the legislation the bill would require the state workers’ comp division, which is under the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, to redefine the calculation for compensating injured employees.

Tennessee Public Action, a group opposing the reform legislation, held a workshop in Johnson City on March 15 to explain the workers’ comp changes to area residents. The group did not paint a favorable picture of the bill.

“The bill basically would allow employers to throw away injured employees,” Mike Lane, a volunteer with Tennessee Public Action, said before that session. “It shifts the responsibility of unsafe workplaces from employers and the insurance industry to employees and taxpayers. It removes workers’ compensation cases from impartial courts and moves the decisions into the political arena, and it creates a new bureaucracy controlled by the executive branch of state government.”

We want to hear from you. Are the governor’s proposed changes to workers’ comp fair to both businesses and injured workers?

Send your comments to Mailbag, P.O. Box 1717, Johnson City, TN 37605-1717, or mailbag@johnsoncitypress.com.

Please include your name, telephone number and address for verification purposes. We will print responses on the Opinion pages in the coming weeks.

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