Following hours of deliberation, debate and thirty amendments, the Senate today passed sweeping workers compensation reform in the form of Senate Bill 5. Senator Todd Staples, who authored the bill, began his remarks by identifying a number of problems with the current workers comp system in Texas. The first shortcoming he named was the difficulty by many injured workers in finding treatment that is both accessible and effective. He also pointed out that the number of doctors who participate in the state's workers comp system has rapidly declined, with nearly half of the participating doctors leaving the system in the last two years. Texas has some of the highest workers comp premiums in the nation, while injured workers spend more time off the job and are less likely to return to work than in other states. "High workers comp costs, some 20 to 25 percent higher than the rest of the nation, is unacceptable, because higher workers comp costs mean fewer jobs," said Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.
According to Staples, SB 5 addresses these problems in the following ways. First, the legislation would create a network system, similar to group health care, where an injured worker would have access to a doctor of their choice. Unlike group health care, the entire cost of treatment and rehabilitation would be covered by the state's system; in other words, the worker would not pay any premiums or co-pays. It would also ensure prompt payment of doctors who participate in the system. The bill seeks to improve the effectiveness of treatment by using evidence-based treatment guidelines, and encouraging cooperation between agencies that deal with workers comp issues. SB 5 also eliminates the current 6-member workers comp commission, and creates the Texas Workers Compensation Commission, headed by a single commissioner. "Our goal from day number one was to ensure that injured workers receive the type of care that they have not been receiving," said Staples. "This bill will give injured workers the care they're entitled to."
The Criminal Justice committee approved Senate Bill 60 today, which would give Texas jurors the option of a life without parole sentence for individuals convicted of a capital crime. Currently, Texas is one of only three states in the nation that does not offer this option when dealing with capital murder. In Texas, jurors have two options: the death penalty, or life with possibility of parole in 40 years. Senator Eddie Lucio, who sponsored the bill, says this choice must be made to in order to give juries the peace of mind that when they sentence someone to life in prison, that person will never be released. "I have felt, and continue to feel, that in order to strengthen our criminal justice system, and to better safeguard our neighborhoods from violent offenders who have proven they cannot live among us, we need the sentence of life without parole available to juries," said Lucio. SB 60 now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 16, at 11:00 A.M.