Workers’ comp cap fails to pass

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 370 views 

Members of the Arkansas House of Representatives Wednesday failed to pass a bill that would cap workers’ compensation benefits at 450 weeks and passed a bill requiring Arkansas students to pass a citizenship test to earn their diplomas.

House Bill 1586 by Rep. John Payton, R-Wilburn, would limit worker’s compensation benefits in total and permanent disability cases to two-thirds of an employee’s average weekly wage for 450 weeks. Because the workers’ compensation law was it enacted by a voter-initiated act in 1948, it required a two-thirds majority for passage, which it did not receive when the vote was 57-27.

The bill grew out of a law passed in a special session in 2016 that closed to new claims the state-operated Workers’ Compensation Commission’s Death and Permanent Total Disability Trust Fund. The fund pays benefits after they have reached a certain point but was facing rising liabilities and potential insolvency. Closing the fund to new claims shifted the responsibility to employers, with the expectation that future legislation would address the issue.

Ending the fund increased the exposure of worker’s compensation and will drive rates higher, Payton said.

Several Democrats – Reps. John Walker, D-Little Rock; Clarke Tucker, D-Little Rock; Vivian Flowers, D-Pine Bluff; and Fred Love, D-Little Rock, asked about the effect of catastrophic injuries whose effects last much longer than the less than nine years contained in the bill.

Payton argued that people harmed as a result of gross negligence can file a lawsuit and said people are injured in other situations but don’t receive workers’ compensation benefits. For those long-term needs, society has other kinds of supports. Some states do caps benefits, including Mississippi, which does so at 400 weeks, he said.

After the bill failed, Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, called for the vote to be expunged. The vote to do so passed 73-17, making it easier to consider the bill again.

House Bill 1533 by Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, requires students, in order to earn their high school diploma or GED, to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. A passing grade is 60 out of 100 questions. Students could take the test as many times as necessary to pass. Homeschooled students also would have to pass the test before earning their diploma or GED. Cozart said 15 states have implemented a similar requirement.

The bill passed, 81-4. Walker, an opponent, asked Cozart if he would co-sponsor with him a bill requiring legislators to pass the same test before they could vote on legislation. Cozart said he would.

Representatives also passed Senate Bill 123 by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, which makes permanent what had been a two-year pilot drug screening and testing program for beneficiaries of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program.