Democrats may have lost the war over what to do with the state's $110 million surplus. But they won a key battle over a workman's compensation issue that should result in higher education benefits for permanently disabled workers.
The victory came despite a lot of interparty name calling and more than three hours of Democratic filibuster that had Republicans at wits' end. What had been billed as a "housekeeping" measure evolved into one of the hottest issues before the special session.The issue involves a "reinsurance fund" that is used to retrain workers who become permanently handicapped through on-the-job accidents. Rep. Franklin Knowlton, R-Layton, had sought to restore a benefits limit of $1,000 - the level that had been in place since 1973, but was inadvertently left off when lawmakers amended the bill last session.
Because it was left off, corporations were responsible for all rehabilitation and retraining costs - something that doesn't sit well with big business.
Democrats claimed there was nothing inadvertent about taking off the $1,000 cap, and argued for three hours straight that if Republicans are going to set a cap then it should be set at a realistic level - about $4,000.
"Make no mistake. This is a tax increase bill," said Rep. Alan Rush-ton, D-West Valley City, of Knowlton's $1,000 cap. "It's absurd to consider the welfare of large corporations over the working people of this state."
Democrats maintained it is impossible to retrain a worker for $1,000. Yet whatever the cost, it is still cheaper than putting that handicapped employee on the welfare rolls for the rest of his life.
In fact, Democrats repeatedly chided their GOP counterparts for opposing a bill that would take people off the welfare rolls and put them back in the work force.
Republicans delayed action on the bill until well after midnight before agreeing to a compromise benefits cap of $3,000. By then, all Republicans cared about was going home.