News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Abbie Hudgens will oversee the new Workers’ Compensation Division starting July 1.
Hudgens will serve a six-year term leading the revamped Workers’ Compensation Division in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (TDLWD).
“I want to thank Abbie for taking on this new opportunity with the workers’ compensation system in Tennessee,” Haslam said. “Abbie has experience in both the public and private sectors and at the state and local levels, giving her an incredible depth of knowledge of the system. She played an integral part in shaping this reform effort, and I appreciate her willingness to serve.”
The governor’s workers’ compensation reform legislation, HB 194/SB 200, simplifies the system while allowing employees to receive benefits faster and return to work sooner, bringing increased predictability to the business environment. Hudgens, a Tennessee native, has worked with the state since 2011 when she began at TDLWD, focusing on workers’ compensation.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — After defeating several attempts by Democrats to dial back the proposal, the House on Thursday approved Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to change the way the state considers injured workers’ claims.
The chamber voted 68-24, almost entirely along party lines, to approve the bill (SB200). The Senate would have to agree to minor changes before the measure can head for the governor’s signature.
A major feature of the measure is that it would remove workers’ compensation cases from the state’s trial courts and instead create special panels appointed by the governor to hear claims and appeals.
Democrats noted that the bill would grant all the power over the system to the executive branch without input or oversight from the Legislature.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville derided the new system as a “Tennessee kangaroo court,” and offered a symbolic amendment to simply do away with the state’s workers’ compensation program altogether. It failed overwhelmingly.
Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, said the changes will jumpstart workers claims, removing uncertainty from both them and their employers.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The House has approved Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to change the way the state considers injured workers’ claims after defeating several attempts by Democrats to dial back the proposal.
The chamber voted 68-24 to approve the bill. The Senate would have to agree to minor changes before the measure can head for the governor’s signature.
Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, the House Democratic leader, argued that the bill would give governors too much power over the workers’ compensation program in the state because the executive branch would have complete power to select judges considering injured workers’ claims and appeals.
He also argued the maximum allowable compensation under the bill levels would fall below the average benefits under the current law. But his efforts to change the bill failed.
A Tennessean story questions whether Gov. Bill Haslam’s workers compensation overhaul legislation will eliminate the “safety net” for workers hurt on the job. As an example, the story gives the example of Matt Webster, permanently disabled by a fire in the Shelbyville printing plant where he worked.
Webster got a $235,000 settlement under the current system. He would have received $57,000 under the Haslam plan. “There’s no way I could have stayed in my house with that,” the Lewisburg, Tenn., man said. “I would have pretty much lost about everything I had.”
Haslam’s proposal, now hurtling toward near-certain passage in the state legislature, won’t affect Webster because his case has already gone through the system. But it and other cases illustrate how the proposed reforms would impact workers who are hurt in the future.
Those workers would go through an administrative process designed to resolve disputes more quickly than the courts, resulting in earlier disability payouts. The payouts would become standardized — and largely not open for attorney negotiation, as they are now — at lower amounts than what workers could get under the system’s current rules.
It’s a tradeoff that reform advocates say is needed to streamline and bring more predictability to a cumbersome system. But critics say the proposal would sacrifice worker compensation and protections for the sake of expediency and saving money.
The overhaul, contained in a 68-page bill, has moved swiftly — to the chagrin of critics — through the GOP-controlled legislature. It already has cleared the Senate and is set for certain House approval on Thursday.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill to overhaul the state’s workers’ compensation system was approved 28-2 by the Senate on Monday evening and now needs only an expected favorable House floor vote to reach his desk.
The bill (SB200) makes multiple changes to current law, including directing disputes over claims by workers for on-the-job injuries from the courts to a new administrative system. Norris, sponsoring the bill for Haslam, said Tennessee is now one of just two states that still adjudicates such claims in courts and currently has higher rates for workers’ compensation insurance than neighboring states.
“I feel confident these reforms are not only going to keep Tennessee competitive but will benefit employees as well,” said Norris.
The two no votes came from Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson and Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, both lawyers.
Overbey gave the only speech in opposition, saying he approved of most changes but is “troubled” by the creation of 20 new state government positions in the new “court of workers’ compensation claims” and various other new administrative jobs in the new system. Court clerks and judges across the state are already familiar with handling claims and could continue, he said.
The senator also said that, under the bill, there is little difference between what a worker is paid if he or she returns to work and payments if he or she does not. The bill could thus reduce incentives for injured workers to return to work, he said.
Norris said most of the newly created positions will be covered by eliminating current jobs in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Some state employees in those jobs may get positions in the new system.
A few dozen people, including members of the Tennessee AFL-CIO and other labor groups, gathered on the steps of the state Capitol Tuesday afternoon to express their opposition Gov. Haslam’s proposed changes to workers’ compensation, according to TNReport. The ralliers, waving signs and chanting “Save Workers’ Comp,” were joined by Democratic leaders from the state House of Representatives who address the crowd and promised to continue to oppose the reform measure, House Bill 194, sponsored by Republican Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner had strong words for the governor and GOP supermajority on the matter, calling the legislation “just wrong,” “shameful” and “immoral.” ”
This administration and this legislature have cut every tax they could cut on the wealthy and they’re paying for it on the backs of working people,” said the Old Hickory Democrat. “This workers comp bill is just one more example of that and it may be the worst of all that I have seen.”
State Rep. Jimmy Eldridge defends to the Jackson Sun his comments on a workers comp bill moving like a freight train through the Legislature — caught on a video that he didn’t realize was recording (Previous post HERE.) He said in an interview with The Jackson Sun on Thursday that his comments in the video have been twisted and taken out of context.
“This workers’ compensation bill is moving through, and we feel strong that it’s a good deal that we got the votes to pass it. We want (bills) to move like a freight train, in a very careful way. I want to get this bill to the House floor and debated by all the members,” he said.
He later said that “all interested parties will have the opportunity to express their views and give input on how to craft the best piece of legislation possible.
“We all want to ensure that this initiative is fair for both employers and employees, and I welcome the healthy discussion and debate that is starting to take place in the coming days regarding this extremely important piece of legislation,” Eldridge said.
Tennessee Citizen Action has called on House Speaker Beth Harwell to explain Eldridge’s comments. Jeff Woods reports that reporters asked her and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick about the remarks, but didn’t get much of a response. “I appreciate his enthusiasm for the bill,” McCormick said. “I think it’s a good bill. Maybe his choice of words could have been better.”
“I don’t know that I can comment for Chairman Eldridge,” Harwell said. “You’re more than welcome to ask him for a response on that.”
We tried that yesterday. One of his minions puffed out his chest, stood in front of the representative’s office door and informed us that “Speaker Harwell’s office” had instructed Eldridge not to talk to reporters. That’s neat, isn’t it? Harwell tells us to talk to Eldridge, and Eldridge says Harwell told him not to talk to us.
It’s all in keeping with the speaker’s motto: “The less you say, the better.”
Without realizing the Legislature’s streaming video equipment was recording his remarks, House Consumer and Human Resources Committee Chairman Jimmy Eldridge likened a bill overhauling the state’s worker’s compensation system to a “freight train” roaring through the Legislature.
The video, initially reported and posted Wednesday on the Nashville Scene’s blog, features Eldridge, R-Jackson, complaining about criticism of the bill – pushed by Gov. Bill Haslam – as unwarranted and intended “rouse employees” and “scare them to death.” A companion says the critics are “uneducated people.”
“I’m going to take care of that bill,” says Eldridge. “That freight train is going off.”
The accidential recording was made prior to the bill’s initial appearance Wednesday in a subcommittee of the committee Eldridge chairs. The subcommittee approved the measure on voice vote with two Democrats recorded as voting no.
The measure (HB194) makes multiple changes to the workers compensation system, the largest being removal of disputed cases from the court system and sending them to a new board, appointed by the governor.
Haslam says his bill will streamline the system while being fair both to workers hurt on the job and businesses who hire them. Critics such as Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, say it will “gut workers’ compensation as we know it in Tennessee. ”
“HB194 will cut paychecks to injured workers who can return to work by one-third,” Mancini said said in a news release Wednesday. “These cuts, along with cuts made in 2008, means an injured worker who goes back to work will collect 60% less than in 2007. The bill will also eliminates certain injuries as being work related and make it more difficult for workers to prove their injury was caused at work and subsequently, more difficult for an injured worker to collect a paycheck when injured.”
Similar remarks are apparently the sort of criticism Eldridge was criticizing.
(Note: This is a column appearing in the Knoxville Business Journal.)
Jeb Bush, appearing with Bill Haslam at a two-man January education forum in Nashville, offered the opinion that “bigger is better” in a gubernatorial reform agenda.
“If it isn’t controversial or hard to do, you probably needed to add a few more bales of hay on the truck,” Bush said. “If you’re focused on pleasing the people who are there all the time (in state government or the Legislature), you’re going to be tweaking workers’ compensation.”
Haslam promptly quipped in reply: “Careful … Now you’ve gone from preaching to meddling.”
Unbeknownst to the former Florida governor, the present Tennessee governor had been hatching – some folks call the Haslam approach “task forcing” – a plan for workers’ compensation reform for the past year or so.
Haslam formally announced the gist of his proposal in his “state-of-the-state” speech on Jan. 28 to the the 108th General Assembly.
The proposal is pretty big, insofar as workers’ compensation goes in Tennessee. Far more reaching than the last reform effort, presided over and pushed through a Democrat-dominated Legislature by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen almost a decade ago.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush inadvertently took aim at one of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislative priorities this year when the two appeared at an education forum.
Bush said Monday during the question and answer phase of the event featuring the two Republicans that as governor he relished taking aim at the bigger challenges, even if it meant facing stronger resistance.
“If it isn’t controversial or hard to do, you probably needed to add a few more bales of hay on the truck,” Bush said. “Bigger is better.”
Otherwise, he said, the inclination is toward less sweeping agenda items.
“If you have legislature that’s focused on pleasing the people who are there all the time, you’re going to be worried about tweaking the workers’ comp bill,” Bush said.
Haslam, who this year plans to introduce changes to the way injured workers claims are processed in Tennessee, interrupted Bush with a laugh.
“Careful,” Haslam said. “Quit preaching on about that one!”
Bush quickly changed analogies, instead saying lawmakers shouldn’t cater to fringe groups like the “left-handed Albanian caucus.”
“There’s all sorts of little things you can focus on,” Bush said. “I’ve found if there’s a bigger focus on the big things, the little things don’t get time.”
Bush was effusive in his praise of Haslam’s education initiatives after the event organized by the State Collaborative on Reforming Education.
“I’m a huge Gov. Haslam fan,” Bush told reporters. “Tennessee’s lucky to have him.”