House takes up workers compensation reform bill

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(Host) After several hours of debate, the Vermont House gave its preliminary approval on Tuesday afternoon to legislation that backers hope will help reduce workers compensation insurance rates in Vermont. The vote on the bill was 101 to 39.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Shelburne Representative Joyce Errecart says the bill doesn’t represent major reform but is a compromise between Republicans and Democrats in the House. The legislation concerns the insurance that all businesses must buy to cover the medical costs and lost salary of workers who are injured on the job.

The legislation increases penalties for fraudulent claims, reduces the time frame in which a claim must be filed and it penalizes employers who fail to provide benefits in a timely manner.

Errecart says it’s an issue that directly affects the economy of the state.

(Errecart) “The high costs of worker’s compensation premiums is listed by almost every Vermont employer as among the top three problems doing business in Vermont. Workers and businesses need reductions in worker’s compensation premiums so that we can keep the jobs that we have and create more jobs in Vermont.”

(Kinzel) A major fight developed over an amendment sponsored by a group of Democrats to grant workers with temporary compensation an annual cost of living adjustment for up to a six-year period.

House Commerce Chairman Mark Young urged members to vote against it because it would increase rates by about one percent a year.

(Young) “This bill is an attempt to make Vermont not be an outlyer paying real attention that there are only seven other states. That was the idea of this and it was also a negotiated settlement in our committee.”

(Kinzel) But Burlington Representative Steve Hingtgen argued the adjustment was an issue of fairness for injured workers.

(Hingtgen) “At some point I just have to say outlyer schmoutlyer. I don’t want to send a message of the world that we’re somehow friendly to business if it means we’re throwing individual workers overboard in the process.”

(Kinzel) The amendment was defeated by a vote of 75 to 64. The measure will now come up for final approval in the House on Wednesday afternoon.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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