May 29, 2009

Workers' Compensation Action Network
Wait . . . isn't workers' compensation a state system?
Yes, but California congressman Joe Baca (D-CA) has proposed legislation (H.R. 635) to establish a national commission to study state workers' compensation laws.

National employer organizations, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are opposing this legislation because federal oversight would be inconsistent with the current state-based approach to workers' compensation programs. In the current model, states are able to tailor their programs to their unique economy and implement necessary reforms to increase efficiencies and reduce abuse.

Indeed, the reforms enacted in California in 2004 are a testament to each state's authority to alter its system to better meet the needs of employers and injured workers.   

Although HR 635 would appear to propose only a "study" of state laws, H.R. 635 tasks the commission with providing, "recommendations for enhancements and improvements in benefit levels, medical care, and administration of State workers' compensation systems." A similar commission, convened in 1972, issued 19 such recommendations and recommended that the federal government enact legislation to "guarantee compliance" by states, in effect imposing federal oversight over the state systems. Legislation was subsequently introduced, but not passed.   

Employers believe that new mandates emanating from a national commission would once again open the door to a rigid, nationwide, one-size-fits-all federal guidelines that are inflexible and administratively cumbersome. Employers are also concerned that the commission membership, as proposed, will be unbalanced and intended to reach a foregone conclusion that the imposition of federal direction on all states' workers' compensation systems is needed. 

H.R. 635 is currently assigned to the House Education and Labor Committee, chaired by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), but not scheduled for a hearing.
We will keep you informed on the status of this legislation. In the meantime, we have included some resources below for you to learn more about the bill and members of the committee.  

Jerry Azevedo
Workers' Compensation Action Network

Resources on HR 635
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