Just over a year ago, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst charged the Legislature with fixing the state's ailing workers compensation system. The Senate responded by forming an interim committee to analyze the workers comp system in Texas and make recommendations for its improvement. Senator Todd Staples, who chaired the interim committee, presented the interim findings and recommendations to the Senate State Affairs Committee in the form of Senate Bill 5. The legislation would address a number of shortcomings with the workers comp system, according to Staples. "We spend much more on medical care but our workers miss more time from work and are less likely to return to work," said Staples, "Employers pay high premiums but also suffer under poor outcome."
According to Staples, Texas employers pay the third highest compensation insurance premiums in the nation, 25% higher than the national average, while patients take longer to return to work and report low satisfaction with the system. Senate Bill 5 proposes a number of changes. Foremost among them would be the abolition of the current 6-member workers comp committee and its replacement with a single member commissioner, appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate. Staples said in testimony today that a single commissioner would be more accountable, and would have to be more open to employer and employee feedback. SB 5 would also create workers compensation networks, similar to the health care networks used by many companies today, that could help to reduce the cost of compensation and rehabilitation, as well as allowing for more patient choice when it comes to who will treat them. The bill would reduce the time period before an injured worker can seek benefits following a work related injury. The proposed legislation would also mandate close cooperation between the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and the Texas Department of Worker's Compensation.
The State Affairs committee heard public testimony following the lay-out of the bill. Testimony is scheduled to go on into the evening and will continue on Tuesday. The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, February 22nd, at 11:00 A.M.