Workers’ compensation premium rates for employers in Tennessee are higher than the national average and higher than all of Tennessee’s bordering states, and the state is one of only two that adjudicated workers’ compensation claims in the trial courts, often delaying benefits to employees and producing inconsistent results.
The governor’s bill, HB 194/SB 200, simplifies the system while allowing employees to receive benefits faster and return to work sooner, bringing increased predictability to the business environment.
“As I traveled the state during my first two years in office, I heard consistently from Tennesseans that reforming workers’ compensation would be a significant step toward improving our business climate and growing jobs,” the governor said in a press release. “Our legislation brings clarity and fairness to the system and builds on our ongoing efforts to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs.”
Sponsors say the legislation will provide disability benefits to injured workers quicker; improves the quality of medical treatment; provides a clearer standard for causation and a neutral application of the law; allows employees to file claims in a court within the Division of Workers’ Compensation rather than trial court; and creates a new ombudsman program in the division to help unrepresented employees and employers receive the assistance they need.
The bill was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville; Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin; House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga; and Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland.
The legislation passed the Senate 28-2, and the House approved it 68-24.
According to The Associated Press, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar bill to overhaul that state's workers' compensation system; a top priority for Republican legislative leaders who said the state's old system was a detriment to business and industry in the state.
Fallin signed the bill Monday, which also changed Oklahoma's court-based system to an administrative structure.
The bill was fiercely opposed by Democrats, who complain that the cost savings come at the expense of injured workers, whose benefits are slashed by roughly $120 million as a result of the bill, according to the AP.
The House also approved a bill Monday to convert the nonprofit CompSource Oklahoma into an independent mutual company. The agency writes about one-third of Oklahoma's workers' compensation policies.