If you talk about the percentage of employer-employee bills supported by the State Industrial Commission and passed by the Legislature, Commission chairman Stephen M. Hadley is pleased, but some of the pivotal efforts at rehabilitation failed.
There were more workers compensation bills in the recent legislative session than he has seen in his 22 years with the commission and he expects more to be submitted in the future as there is room for "fine tuning" the ever-changing workers compensation system.Hadley said there are many ways to handle workers compensation programs and the commission will continually work to keep Utah's system current.
The big news out of the commission probably centers on what bill wasn't passed rather than what was passed, although some bills that passed were important.;
SB208 would have called for early identification of permanently totally disabled injured workers to get them retrained and into other jobs, if necessary. The bill passed the Senate, but failed to pass the House.
The main purpose of SB208 was to get people back into the work force quickly so they don't become dependent on workers compensation benefits, Hadley said. It also would have required the commission to study how cost-effective rehabilitation is for injured workers and the employers who pay the premiums.
There were other versions of rehabilitation-related bills facing the Legislature and none passed. They included one that would have provided for mandatory rehabilitation benefits for injured Utah workers. That bill was opposed by the Utah Mining Association, the Utah Manufacturers Association and the Utah Self Insurers Association.
Hadley said the rehabilitation issue isn't dead and expects it to be an important discussion item in Utah Workmen's Compensation Advisory Council meetings.
One of the bills passing was SB163, which increased the reserve in the Unemployed Insurers Fund from $500,000 to $2 million. Hadley said it was necessary because an actuary determined there is a high probability of a large outflow of money from the fund.
Part of the 8 percent premium paid by businesses for workers compensation insurance goes into the uninsured employer's fund to cover the medical and wage replacement benefits to those who are injured and work for a company that isn't covered by benefits.
The fund pays benefits to the injured worker and then pursues the employer for reimbursement.
Another bill passing was SB219, which reduces the time for payment of workers compensation benefits after an order from the commission from 90 to 30 days. This affects few people because only 2 percent of workers compensation claims are contested.
Not passing were SB147, which would have required payment of attorney fees in contested cases in addition to the benefits awarded, and SB156, which would continue the tradition of deducting the attorneys fees from any award. Employers and insurance companies opposed SB147 and employees opposed SB156.
Several months ago, a commission administrative law judge ruled in a workers compensation appeal case that attorney fees shouldn't be deducted from an award. The awarding of attorney fees has been held in abeyance pending an appeal of the decision to the Utah Court of Appeals.
SB129 also passed that calls for recodification of the Utah Labor Code. Hadley said the code needs updating to remove the sexist language and the parts that are unenforceable.
Some of the other bills considered were SB217 (didn't pass), which would have standarized reporting procedures to the Occupational Safety and Health Division in certain accidents; HB393 passed, and prohibits discrimination against pregnant women; SB183 passed, requiring OSHA violations when citations are issued to go through the commission rather than through an appeals board.