House Strips Reform Bill, Subs its Own Version

House Strips Reform Bill, Subs its Own Version

By Michael Whiteley, WorkCompCentral

A subcommittee of the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee approved a call to strip away a reform hashed out for months in the South Carolina Senate and to substitute its own version.

Those involved in the heated debate over Senate Bill 332 said the decision, if approved by the full committee and passed by the House, sets the stage for a showdown in a House-Senate conference panel during the final weeks of the 2007 session.

Frank Knapp, president of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, said he was assured by one Senate leader the upper house would send in its toughest negotiators if the House adopts the substitute, which is similar to bill filed by Rep. Michael Thompson, R-Anderson, earlier in the session.

Legislators did not return phone calls Thursday and adjourned for the weekend.

The substitute language stops short of the Senate’s plan to abolish the state’s Second Injury Fund (SIF) in 2013.

Instead, it directs the state Budget and Control Board to engineer “The efficient and expeditious closure of the fund” if paid clams for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, haven’t fallen below $8 million.

If claims for the fund drop below that level, then the budget board must order an audit of the fund and report the findings to the speaker of the House and the president pro ten by Jan. 1, 2013.

The amendment keeps a special concession to truckers given by Senate leaders. S 332 and the House amendment allow a trucker who owns or leases his tractor to be considered an independent contractor, which frees the state’s motor carriers from providing workers’ compensation coverage.

But the House version goes further in tightening restrictions on repetitive trauma.

Both versions would eliminate arthritis from ailments covered by the Second Injury Fund, which would eliminate a majority of the claims.

The House bill would eliminate payments for stress, mental injury and mental illness unless an employer/carrier admits they were aggravated by a related physical injury.

The relationship also would have to be noted in medical records by an authorized physician as being causally related.

The House bill requires a workers’ compensation commissioner to make a finding of fact “by a preponderance of the evidence” of a causal connection to repetitive activities that occur during regular activities.

The bill also eliminates a legal assumption of total and permanent disability when a worker suffers a 50% or greater loss of the use of his or her back.

Instead, the House bill adds to a list of specific injuries the loss of a shoulder, which would pay two-thirds of the average week wage for 300 weeks. It also adds loss of a hip, which would pay two-thirds of the average weekly wage for 280 weeks.

The House version omits a key requirement added by Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, that requires to provide detailed explanations of their loss-cost multipliers, which they use to come up with their rates.

Work began in the Senate Workers’ Compensation Subcommittee last summer and continued through the fall, while Chief Administrative Law Judge Marvin Kittrell considered a proposed 32.9% increase in loss costs. Kittrell reduced the increase to 18.4% effective Dec. 1, 2006.

Chided for accepting too many changes from claimants’ attorneys during the 41 revisions in the Senate, Study Committee Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said last week the Senate got all it could get in the way of compromise for 2007.

He predicted the House decision to strip away the Senate reform would never be approved by the Senate.