New Year Changes in Workers’ Compensation

Bruce Burk/Liz Carey

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) –

New Year Changes in Workers’ Compensation

The November 2018 elections saw a sweeping wave of change in the parties in control of governors’ mansions across the country. Additionally, many new state legislators have been sworn in. Here are some of the latest appointments and changes resulting from the elections.

California

As he was leaving office, former Gov. Jerry Brown named Christine Baker to serve as a member of the 7-person Fraud Assessment Commission. Baker previously served as director of the California Department of Industrial Relations. The commission is responsible for dispensing funds to investigate and prosecute workers’ compensation fraud through money collected from stakeholders across the states.

In April, Baker abruptly resigned her post with the DIR after more than 30 years in the industry. She was the first woman to become director of the department. During her 7-year leadership she won wide recognition on a state and national basis. Baker previously served as chief of the division of labor statistics and research, as well as the deputy director of the division of workers’ compensation for California. In 1994, she was named the executive officer for the California Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation, and moved into her position as director of industrial relations in 2011 at the appointment of Gov. Brown.

Baker is also currently working as a consultant with former California Occupational Safety and Health Administration chief Len Welsh.

Illinois

In Illinois, Democrat J. B. Pritzker defeated Republican challenger and Incumbent Bruce Rauner. During the campaign, Pritzker criticized Rauner for vetoing a workers’ compensation bill. He claimed that his challenger only talked about lowering costs and did not do enough with respect to compromising on the issue. Illinois pays one of the highest costs in the Midwest for workers’ compensation. At press time, we had not seen any specific proposals from the new governor.

Maine

Incumbent Republican Governor Paul LePage was term-limited and could not seek reelection. Democrat Janet Mills defeated Republican challenger Shawn Moody. That resulted in Paul Sighinolfi losing his post as Chair of the Workers’ Compensation Commission and replaced by John Rhode.

“John has dedicated his career to serving Maine’s employees and employers. With more than 25 years of experience on the Workers’ Board of Compensation, he is steeped in the issues facing the Board and he is uniquely qualified to take the reins and ensure that it effectively serves its mission. I look forward to working with him in the years to come,” said Gov. Mills. Rhode has a background in workers’ compensation, and a history for serving as a mediator, general counsel, and acting as a liaison to the state legislature for rule changes for the industry.

Michigan

Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican challenger Bill Schutte, as former Go. Rick Snyder was term limited and could not seek reelection. Whitmer wants to raise the minimum wage in Michigan to $15 an hour, which could affect workers’ compensation indemnity benefits. She also has several programs aimed at educating an older workforce, which could help get aging injured workers back to work reduce the number of workers being permanently and totally disabled. “There are a lot of people beyond high school graduation who need to skill up,” the new governor commented.

Wisconsin

Republican favorite Scott Walker lost to Democratic challenger Tony Evers. Evers then tapped fellow former state Sen. Caleb Frostman to lead the Department of Workforce Development, which helps process workers’ compensation claims within the state. Perhaps the new leadership will take up the prospect for a workers’ compensation fee schedule for Wisconsin, one of just six states not to have one. Some say that may be part of the reason why the state has seen increases in the cost of medical care for the state.

NCOIL

Louisiana Senator Dan “Blade” Morrish has been elected president of the National Council of Insurance Legislators. The organization works to provide leadership on insurance legislation, including providing model legislation and resolutions. In the past year, the NCOIL workers’ compensation committee has provided model legislation dealing with volunteer firefighters, pharmaceutical reimbursement rates, coverage for the construction industry and coverage in professional employer organization relationships.

As one of his first acts, Morrish appointed Louisiana Rep. Edmond Jordan and Florida Rep. David Santiago to the Workers’ Compensation Committee.

Jordan, a Democrat, is an attorney and the co-owner of Cyrpess Insurance Agency, Inc., and was elected to office in 2016. Santiago, a Republican, is a financial manager, according to his Florida legislative bio.

“This bipartisan, bicameral group represents countless years of experience in insurance and financial services public policy” Morrish said in a statement. “I am confident they will do a commendable job representing NCOIL and leading these committees throughout the year at our three meetings and many interim committee calls.”

Morrish, who previously served as vice president of NCOIL, succeeds Arizona Sen. Jason Rapert as president.

The next NCOIL meeting will be on March 15-17 in Nashville, TN.

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