By Joan E. Collier
The numbers do not appear to be working for proponents of optional workers’ compensation plans. We have 50 states, and only two—Texas and Oklahoma—allow employers to opt in/out of workplace insurance coverage. Texas has allowed private employers to choose whether or not to provide workers' compensation insurance coverage for their employees since the inception of its system 100 years ago; Oklahoma lawmakers made the change in 2013.
The Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC) is the driving force behind optional efforts nationwide. Its website lists Tennessee and South Carolina has “state priorities” for passing legislation.
The Tennessee Option (aka The Employee Injury Benefit Alternative legislation—HB 997/SB 721) was dealt a substantial setback a week ago when the Tennessee House Consumer Affairs Committee canceled a hearing on the legislation. The opt-out proposal now has been removed from the legislative calendar for the year, making it unlikely that it will come up for a vote in 2016.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Jeremy Durham, resigned from his post as House majority whip in January amid allegations that he sexually harassed three women on Capitol Hill. He then removed himself from the Republican caucus and is currently taking a leave from the Legislature to “work on himself and his family.” (Tough to get traction when one of your main guys digs himself a hole that deep.)
Rep. Durham’s foibles notwithstanding, the proposal has hit road blocks before. In March 2015, the state's Advisory Council on Workers' Compensation unanimously decided against recommending that version of the bill. Proponents were hopeful that it would fare better this year. Not so far. There’s always 2017.
In South Carolina, SB 674 was introduced in 2015. The bill seeks to repeal the state’s Workers’ Compensation Act as established in 1976 and to allow optional coverage programs for private employers (public employers and private employers that work on government projects would not be eligible). On the day it was introduced (April 16, 2015), the bill was moved to the Senate Committee on Judiciary—where it sat, and sat, and sat. On Feb. 5, 2016, it was referred to subcommittee—where it sits.
The International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions thinks the optional coverage bandwagon is significant enough to devote a page on its website and a staffer to provide information and resource materials.
Me? I’m normally for at least discussing options of any kind, but I think ARAWC has a tough battle ahead considering the difficulty it’s having even getting these proposals out of committee.
(See more Work Comp Nation blogs here.)