Workers' comp, retirement to resurface in special session

Posted: Friday, May 20, 2005

Workers' compensation and privatized retirement accounts for future public workers and teachers may be coming back for another round this special legislative session.

The House earlier this week voted down both conference committee bills, with members saying the workers' compensation measure contained flaws that would hurt employees, employers and doctors. The retirement bill and its defined- contribution plan with 401(k)-type accounts was risky and the effects of the proposed change are unknown, detractors said.

But after meeting in closed caucuses most of Thursday morning, Republican leaders from both the House and the Senate say they are going to give both bills another try.

Gov. Frank Murkowski, back in Juneau after two days of gas pipeline contract talks in Anchorage, met with both Republican leadership caucuses and was to meet with minority leaders later Thursday.

The two bills have to be resolved this session, Murkowski said. To do that, all sides, including his administration, must compromise and not hold up the process, he said.

"We're expected to lead and we're expected to govern, and it's going to show when we leave as to whether or not we've met that obligation," he said.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, said new conference committees could be formed for the retirement and workers' compensation bills.

The retirement bill has already gone through two conference committees, with Senate leaders unwilling to move from their demand of a complete conversion from the traditional pension plans to defined-contribution plans for future workers and teachers.

Harris said he was not going to take as central a role in the workers' comp bill this time as he did in the first committee. He said he does not want to be a "lightning rod" for perceived battles against Senate President Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage.

Instead, Harris said, he will give direction to his point men on the two bills.

With some tweaks, the workers' comp bill could be fairly easy to resolve, Harris said. The retirement bill may be more of a challenge, he said.

"We'll work it out," Harris said.

Stevens said there is still room for further compromise on both bills - except for the retirement systems' defined contribution plan, he said.

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