For Immediate Release
AUGUSTA - House Republican leaders say the workers' compensation reform passed today will better protect workers, provide a more predictable system for employers and reduce drawn-out litigation that saps the resources of employees injured on the job.
The bill, LD 1913, passed on a 75-71 party line after extensive debate on the House floor.
"This is the first reform of workers' comp since the McKernan reforms of 1992," said Rep. Andre Cushing (R-Hampden). "It is time that we modernize the system to make it fairer for both workers and employers.
"No one objects to compensation for injured workers," he continued, "but the biggest beneficiaries today are lawyers, not the injured individuals. The litigation associated with the current system continues to drive up employer costs and promotes an adversarial relationship between employer and employee."
Rep. Phil Curtis, leader of the House Republicans, said LD 1913 will reduce litigation, report injuries faster, align benefits with national norms and bring employees back to work. Moreover, he said, it will encourage retraining for injured workers for other jobs if they can't return to their previous occupation.
"The whole package is a comprehensive set of changes to the workers' comp law," he said, "but the overall theme is intended to maintain the balance of controlling costs for employers and providing benefits to injured workers. The bill actually increases the maximum weekly benefit while implementing a 10-year time limit on partial incapacity benefits. It provides for extensions for the most severely limited individuals based on their degree of impairment and lost earning capacity.
"It's worth noting," he added, "that it will not cut off or lower compensation benefits for any current recipient of lifetime benefits."
Rep. Kerri Prescott (R-Topsham), who shepherded the bill through the legislative process, said workers will be better protected by the creation of an appellate division. "Currently, workers are not able to appeal a decision by the hearing board," she said. "They will now have that option.
"The reform also requires that workplace injuries be reported in 30 days instead of 90," said Rep. Prescott, the House chair of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, which worked LD 1913. "That 30-day reporting period reduces an employee's risk of further injury and ensures a more accurate account of what happened, benefitting the worker's credibility."
Republican legislators who run small companies said the reforms will enhance opportunities.
Rep. Kimberly Olsen, for example is a carpenter and home builder. "The price tag on workers' comp is prohibitively expensive for small businesses like my family's residential building company," said Rep. Olsen (R-Phippsburg). "We would love to be able to hire on help, but even during strong economic times, it's a struggle to take that step. For us, it becomes a choice between growing our business or feeding our kids."
Rep. Aaron Libby (R-Waterboro) runs a family-owned pick-your-own orchard operation. "Currently, a business owner is faced with many uncontrollable costs of doing business," he said. "The heavy burden of workers' comp is just one of many expenses that come with hiring employees. This legislation has multiple mechanisms to help lower the cost of workers' comp for employers, while at the same time improving the system for employees." ###
Maine House Republicans
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