According to a recent article in our hometown newspaper, The Tennessean, Governor Bill Haslam’s administration is proposing an overhaul of the workers’ compensation system in Tennessee. It would include and independent state agency that would oversee all aspects of the state’s workers’ comp system, including appeals now hear by the courts.
At this point there are very few specifics to analyze, as the Governor’s office has been mum on the details until the final bill is filed, which may happen as early as this week. However, critics are already crying foul as they feel the proposal would unfairly curtail injured workers’ rights and compensation.
The Tennessean, however, obtained a 67 page working draft showing major changes to the 94-year-old system, which was overhauled a decade ago. A good number of the proposals are similar to those of a Virginia consulting firm (WorkComp Strategies). The firm was hired by the state after business owners told the Governor that the current system is “bureaucratic, litigious, inconsistent and costly.”
The draft bill proposes consolidating oversight of the system – which now falls under the state Labor Department, the legislature and the courts – within a new agency, which would operate independently under an administrator appointed by the governor. The agency would have the authority to set, change and enforce workers’ comp rules, as well as handle claims and benefits disputes, including appeals that are now handled in chancery and circuit courts.
While cloaked in the guise of streamlining a process to protect workers, it is really just another effort by a Republican administration and business interests to restrict consumer access to the judicial system by statutorily forcing grievances to be heard by a new department.
Labor advocates, including the Tennessee Association for Justice (TAJ), rightly contend that workers’ comp cases have dramatically dropped over the past 8 years due to repeated weakening of worker protections. They argue, rightly again, that this proposed legislation would further erode these protections.
Bryan Capps, a Knoxville attorney and president of the TAJ, said, “This bill does more of the same. It really, quite frankly, would be devastating to workers.”
We couldn’t agree more, Mr. Capps.
The full article can be read here.
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Photo Credit: TN.gov