WCA Legislative Agenda Hits the News

The 2010 WCA Legislative Agenda was reported by WorkCompCentral on August 12, 2010. 

Alliance Targets GSITS, Hearings in Legislative Agenda

The New York Workers' Compensation Alliance rolled out a 2010-2011 legislative agenda this week that includes calls for shutting down the state's troubled group self-insured trust system and guaranteeing workers' rights to hearings in noncontroverted cases.

 The Alliance, a group of New York claimants' attorneys, released the package after the New York Legislature finished the bulk of its business for 2010.

 But Gov. David Paterson's office is pushing the New York Assembly and Senate to return to Albany sometime this fall to act on budget issues and to consider a report issued in June by Paterson's Task Force on Group Self-Insurance. State lawmakers would have to vote on a recommendation to abolish the group self-insured trust system and close most existing trusts. Some with histories of being fully funded would be converted to a new structure.

 The Task Force called for scrapping the system and directing members of most trusts to find other workers' compensation coverage by this Dec. 31.

 The Alliance's call for a change in the hearings process also could play into compromise talks ongoing this week between the AFL-CIO and the New York State Workers' Compensation Board (SWCB) over a board plan to expedite its hearings process and divert many cases from hearings to informal review by administrative law judges.

 The judges in those cases would issue proposed orders – or "desk" orders – that could be challenged by attorneys demanding a formal hearing.

 Robert Grey, chairman of the Alliance, said his group is backing Assembly 11337, which deals with uncontested claims. Filed in June, the bill would guaranty that a worker with an uncontroverted claim can get a hearing within 20 day of filing an application.

 Grey said uncontested claims are reviewed by claims examiners who can reject them for lack of sufficient evidence.

 "I'm okay with attaching evidence to a hearing request and having examiners review it," Grey said. "But I'm not okay with an examiner passing on the sufficiency of the evidence I've submitted. I'm concerned that that's a job for a judge."

 Art Wilcox, chief of workers' compensation issues for the AFL-CIO, said the compromise talks are progressing.

Board officials agreed to come up with a document by next week that spells out issues on which the board and the union agree and disagree.

Wilcox said the Alliance bill may not be included in the compromise.

"I don't want hearings for the sake of hearings," Wilcox said.

But Wilcox, a member of the group self-insured task force, sided with the Alliance on a call to act quickly on group self-insured trusts.

The Task Force warned that unpaid workers' claims left from 15 trusts that have failed since 2006 are approaching $500 million and could surpass $600 million upon the completion of ongoing forensic audits.

Grey said the state's claimants' attorneys have stayed out of debate over the crisis because the SWCB is paying claims. But he said pending court cases over whether healthy trusts should have to pay the liabilities of failed ones and debate over how much of the burden should be borne by members of failed trusts have raised questions about the board's future ability to pay.

 He said the Alliance is calling on lawmakers to shut down the system and find a way to protect future payments to injured workers.

 SWCB Public Information Director Brian Keegan said Wednesday the board agreed two weeks ago the board agreed to bar underfunded trusts from accepting new members.

 Wilcox said Paterson is pushing for further action.

 "I can tell you the governor's office is still pushing to get this resolved this year," Wilcox said. "But the bigger piece of this is whether the Legislature is coming back this year – and whether they are coming back to look at anything but budget issues."

 Other issues identified by the Alliance this week include:

 Legislation that would declare that any worker receiving disability benefits from the Social Security Administration is totally disabled under the state workers' compensation system.

Completion of a new set of impairment guides mandated by a set of workers' compensation reforms signed into law in 2007.

Providing cost-of-living adjustments for injured workers.

Indexing the minimum weekly benefit for injured workers. The 2007 reforms tied the maximum benefit to the state average weekly wage as of this July 1, but did not index the minimum.

 "The minimum rate is crucial to tens of thousands of low-wage workers," the Alliance said.

 Keegan declined comment on the Alliance's recommendations.

 The Alliance agenda is here: http://www.nyworkerscompensationalliance.org/.