By Michael Whiteley, WorkCompCentral

Published April 4, 2007

The South Carolina Civil Justice Coalition completed a telephone blitz to more than 100,000 voters urging them to oppose a workers’ compensation reform bill that the state Senate will discuss today for the first time.

Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who placed S 332 on today’s Senate calendar, admitted to reporters that the heavily revised reform package has some serious problems.

Martin’s comments followed release of a South Carolina Chamber of Commerce newsletter that challenges the bill and the Civil Justice Coalition’s telephone drive to 100,000 voters.

Cam Crawford, executive director of the coalition of businesses and insurers, said the coalition is pushing to return the bill to an earlier version cranked out by Martin’s committee special subcommittee.

Crawford said Tuesday the calls included a taped message from Gov. Mark Sanford on how job growth and the business climate are tied to meaningful reform of the system.

Full-page newspaper ads accompanying the calls urged readers to call their senators and representatives and demand real workers’ compensation reform, with the word “real” underlined. The ads blamed the state’s trial and “TV Personal Injury Lawyers” for watering down plan.

“The question is whether meaningful reform will make it out of the legislature,” Crawford said. “I don’t think the question is whether legislation will pass. Certainly legislation will pass, but the business community will only support meaningful legislation.”

At issue are changes made in the Senate Judiciary Committee that weakened proposal restrictions on repetitive trauma injuries and erased a proposal that disability rulings made by the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission be tied to American Medical Association guidelines.

The coalition and the Chamber of Commerce are behind a plan that would phase out the South Carolina Second Injury Fund and eliminate it by July 1, 2013.

The SIF elimination is opposed by the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.

Frank Knapp, president, South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce spent the past two weeks pointing out that the National Council on Compensation Insurance said abolishing the fund would increase loss costs by 3% to 4%.

But Knapp said his group backs changes in the way fund assessments are calculated and restrictions in coverage set to take effect on July 1, 2007.

“This is about greed. This is about throwing their weight around. This is an affront to small business,” Knapp said of the coalition campaign.

A Martin aide on Tuesday disputed a report in the Associated Press quoting him as saying that without more work, “I don’t see how we can pass anything.”

Martin could not be reached for comment Monday. Speaking through the assistant, Martin acknowledged the legislation has problems that will have to be addressed.

Assessments charged to employers through carriers to support the Second Injury fund have increased from $72.2 million in 2000 to $188.5 million last year.

The Associated Press reported that the SIF began mailing letters to businesses and insurers this week saint the $188 million budgeted for the current fiscal year would be reduced to $94 million.

 

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