Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Legislature tackles workers’ comp issues

 

Kevin McGinley

Guest Columnist

This could be the year New Mexico updates our workers’ compensation system, resolving long-standing controversies and supporting efforts to strengthen our economy.

A few critical bills are moving in the legislature, and eastern New Mexico-area legislators are taking the lead. All three bills have been endorsed by the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council.

House Bill 250, sponsored by Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, has cleared its second committee, with a unanimous vote. This bill clarifies that it’s better for injured workers to return to work, when the doctor approves, than to stay home collecting benefits. It re-establishes financial incentives for workers to return to work and for employers to offer them work, adding protections for both.

This bill received a boost last week in testimony by Rachel Bayless (formerly of Clovis), general counsel of the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration. She did an extraordinary job explaining the issue — which involves complex rules of the workers’ compensation structure — to the legislators.

Senate Bill 233 is sponsored by Sen. Pat Woods, R-Broadview. This bill re-asserts the principle that “temporary” means temporary. It addresses a court decision that said temporary total disability benefits could go on forever (a separate provision awards lifetime benefits for certain very serious injuries). This bill has cleared two Senate committees with bipartisan support.

These two bills address the effects of decisions by the state’s higher courts. These decisions were made in response to specific cases but have had unintended consequences when applied to the system as a whole.

Most familiar to the public is the drug and alcohol issue. Under current law, a worker injured while under the influence of drugs or alcohol receives the same benefits as any other worker, or a small reduction. This issue has been a sticking point for many years.

This year, it looks like we are going to pass legislation that sets an appropriate degree of reduction in benefits, thanks to Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, who is carrying House Bill 238. The changes proposed in this bill will make workplaces safer for workers, reduce costs for employers, and send a positive message for economic growth.

Workers’ comp is a complex system that can be confusing to understand. The Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council exists to review and debate legislation in advance, receiving input from all sides, to make the process less burdensome for legislators. We hope our vetting process will make it easier for legislators to pass these bills with confidence.

A goal of the workers’ compensation system is to reward everyone for doing the right thing — workers for staying safe and sober at work, employers for re-employing injured workers, and so on. We reached consensus this year by making sure the legislation is aligned with that goal. And we are deeply grateful to Reps. Crowder and Roch and Sen. Woods for their contribution to this important effort.

Kevin McGinley is a Las Cruces contractor and chairman of the Advisory Council on Workers’ Compensation and Occupational Disease Disablement. Contact him at:

[email protected]

 

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