Friday, February 18, 2000

Roeding: Workers' comp OK as is


Doesn't see need for adjustments Patton proposes

BY PATRICK CROWLEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FRANKFORT — Legislation to change Kentucky's workers' compensation law hasn't even been formally filed, but already may be in trouble because of concerns from a key Northern Kentucky lawmaker.

        Senate President Pro TemDick Roeding, R-Lakeside Park, said he isn't convinced the adjustments to the 4-year-old law proposed this week by Gov. Paul Patton are needed.

        “I don't really see any reason to change the law right now,” Mr. Roeding said Thursday. “These changes might increase premiums on businesses by as much as 20 percent a year, not the 8 percent the governor has suggested.

        “And those increases will be passed on to the businesses, who will pass those costs on to consumers,” he said.

        Mr. Patton was the original advocate of changing the state's workers' compensation laws, which are designed to provide money and benefits to workers hurt on the job.

        Over the objection of orga nized labor — one of his strongest political bases — Mr. Patton won approval of a huge overhaul of the system during a 1996 special legislative session. He said the changes were needed because it was too easy for workers, particularly coal miners with a breathing ailment known as black lung, to collect benefits.

        Mr. Patton said that helped

        drive up the costs of the premiums businesses paid for workers' comp insurance. Since the law was passed, costs to the state's workers' comp system have dropped by 41 percent, Mr. Patton said Wednesday.

        Premiums have also fallen, according to Mr. Patton and business owners such as Rep. Royce Adams, D-Dry Ridge, the owner of a heating oil company in Williamstown.

        “My rates have fallen by about 40 percent since we passed the law,” Mr. Adams said Thursday. “And I also have more companies offering to write my insurance, which gives me competition and better rates to choose from.”

        But some injured workers have complained about how difficult it has been to collect benefits. The law made it harder for them to prove injuries, several workers told lawmakers during a series of hearings around the state last summer.

        “I would support some changes because I am concerned that some people are falling through the cracks,” Mr. Adams said. “But overall, I think the law has worked pretty well.”

        Mr. Patton's suggested changes are likely to be filed as a House bill next week. The governor has proposed:

        • Increasing benefits for workers who are permanently partially disabled.

        • Expanding training programs for injured workers unable to return to their previous professions.

        • Doubling benefits to $50,000 for survivors of workers who are killed on the job.

        • Changing the way black lung cases are determined.

        • Increasing fees for attorneys so workers have an easier time finding representation. Many attorneys have said they are no longer taking workers' comp cases because they can't make any money under the system.

        The Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce lobbied heavily to pass the changes in 1996. Steve Stevens, the chamber's top lobbyist, said Thursday he will study and monitor the bill but reserved saying more until the legislation has been filed.

        “We'll be on top of it,” Mr. Stevens said.

       



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