The governor's workers compensation bill was held up in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, just a few hours after he said he was glad one of his pet projects was progressing through the Legislature.
Gov. Frank Murkowski, who calls the bill "must-pass" legislation, said in a news conference that he was happy to see the measure moving again, but was less pleased by changes that had been made by the House Labor and Commerce Committee.
"The important thing to recognize is that the labor committee did get it out," he said. "Many of these controversial issues never get out of the committee initially where they were referred to. This one is moving."
By Thursday afternoon, the bill was stuck in the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, said he wanted an agreement that the administration would not try to change the bill, which has been rewritten.
"Since I have put in a lot of time, I would hate to see this version changed," Kott said.
Murkowski made a workers compensation overhaul one of the topics of last year's special session after the labor committee killed the bill in the regular session. The Legislature adjourned the special session without passing a bill.
This session, Murkowski filed his bill again and said he would do what's necessary to push it through. One tactic has been to send 11,000 letters signed by Labor Commissioner Greg O'Claray to Anchorage and Kodiak businesses asking the owners to call Republican committee members Reps. Bob Lynn and Gabrielle LeDoux and tell them to support the bill.
The bill passed the labor committee Wednesday, but not before a provision to create a commission to hear workers' appeals was deleted and other provisions were included that Murkowski said raises employers' costs.
The appeals commission would be made up of gubernatorial appointees, which critics say would favor employers.
"That way (Murkowski) can stack the commission ... and he can throw out their claims," said Rep. Harry Crawford, D-Anchorage.
Crawford, who sits on the Labor and Commerce Committee, said the bill may not be what Murkowski wants, and he himself does not agree the measure completely, but says it's "something that everyone can live with."
"I think he's gotten almost everything he wants except the appeals commission," Crawford said.
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