Comp bill up for vote

Posted: Sunday, May 08, 2005

While legislators are going back and forth over adopting a new retirement system, another battle is being waged to change workers' compensation.

Aching businesses want relief from rising worker compensation insurance, but a number of doctors, labor unions and legislators oppose SB 130.

The bill, which the Senate passed last month, will be voted on today on the House Floor.

In a statement released Saturday, Gov. Frank Murkowski said he would veto road and school construction projects if the Legislature did not approve a "meaningful" workers' compensation reform.

This is the governor's third attempt to pass an overhaul bill, which failed in last year's regular and special sessions.

So far the House has gutted the governor's proposal significantly by removing a special appeals panel that would hear cases instead of the Alaska Supreme Court.

"It was glaring bureaucracy," said Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, chairman of the Legislative Council. He and others questioned whether the panel would really save time. It would have cost $700,000 a year to maintain the commission of gubernatorial appointees.

House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said he and other Democrats would support the bill if no changes are made to the current version.

Only one technical amendment is expected today.

The Senate draft capped medical fees at 1999 levels, but the House revised the provision to put a two-year hold on the costs, starting with December 2004 fees.

Lawmakers on Friday placed the time-honored second injury fund back into the system after taking it out a few days before.

The fund that gives compensation to workers who are injured on the job a second time predates statehood, said Alaska Labor Commissioner Greg O'Claray.

The fund was created so employers would not discriminate against workers who have previous injuries. Six percent of employers' premiums pay for the fund.



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