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News >  Idaho

Bill Would End Workers’ Comp At 65 Legislators Swamped With Bills Tinkering With Worker Benefits

FOR THE RECORD (February 14, 1997): Correction: Senate Bill 1098 would cut worker’s disability payments by an amount equal to half of Social Security benefits starting at age 65. The type of cut was misstated in a headline in Thursday’s newspaper.

Legislation that would cut disability benefits for injured workers when they turn 65 is up for a hearing today, launching a bitter and complicated fight over nine bills aiming to reform Idaho’s workers’ compensation system.

Four of the bills, including the measure cutting disability payments, are sponsored by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the state’s largest business lobby. Five are sponsored by the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association.

The trial lawyers oppose three of the four IACI bills; IACI opposes four of the five trial lawyers’ bills.

“I’ve looked at ‘em,” Sen. Jack Riggs, R-Coeur d’Alene, said of the pile of bills. “I think right now, both from personal experience as an employer and also the information I’ve gathered through the Industrial Commission, most people think the current system is pretty good.

“With that in mind, I would only be in favor of passing something that was really an improvement, and I’m not sure that those bills really give us that.”

Riggs is one of four freshmen on the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee, which will hold hearings on five of the bills today.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, “I think both the freshmen on the committee and the folks that have been there for a while are feeling a bit buried. We’re wondering why are we looking at nine bills, and one of those bills is huge.” Senate Bill 1099, sponsored by IACI, is an omnibus bill that amends 18 different sections of law. It is scheduled to be heard next Thursday.

“We’re being buried in messages from both sides, from across the state,” Keough said. “It seems like there are more productive ways to take a look at that system and make changes - it just seems like overkill.”

Both sides agree that Idaho’s workers’ compensation system generally works well and premiums are low.

IACI Executive Director Steve Ahrens said his group representing employers wants to “basically smooth out the system and reduce litigation.

“There is nothing in here which is going to take away benefits that an injured worker deserves and qualifies for,” he said.

The trial lawyers disagree. Their own bills, they say, are “just some pretty isolated, small things that could stand to be made mutual.

“There aren’t any of our bills that have 18 sections,” said David Kerrick, the trial lawyers’ lobbyist and former Senate majority leader.

For today, the controversy focuses on SB 1098. It says that when an injured worker turns 65 and starts collecting Social Security, his disability payments will be reduced by an amount equal to half his Social Security benefits.

Al Gardner, a Boise lawyer and IACI member who drafted the bill, said, “Workers’ comp is actually income replacement, even though it’s for life.”

When workers retire, they wouldn’t be generating income anyway, he said, so allowing them to collect both disability payments and Social Security amounts to double-dipping.

“They’re getting their share,” Gardner said.

After criticism of the idea last year, IACI changed the bill so it only applies to workers disabled after they reach the age of 60.

Sen. Gordon Crow, R-Hayden, said he plans to vote against the bill in committee today.

Crow said he doesn’t want to do anything to disturb the central premise of workers’ comp: that injured workers are compensated regardless of who’s at fault, and they therefore give up their right to sue their employer.

Riggs said he can see the logic of the double-dipping argument to a point.

“But the person who has a permanent disability is not really the same class as the person who retires completely healthy,” he said.

“So you could also make the argument that they should receive some compensation for their permanent disability, in addition to their Social Security.”

Riggs added: “I’m not sure that I’m inclined to changing that right now.”

John Greenfield, a Boise attorney who handles workers’ comp cases and sides with the trial lawyers, calls the premise of the Social Security bill flawed. “It takes away something you earned, so that the insurance company can pay less than it owes. It does not make sense.”

Gardner disagreed, saying workers’ comp was never designed to be a retirement program.

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: DUELING LEGISLATION Here are the nine bills that would change Idaho’s workers’ compensation system:

From the Trial Lawyers SB 1091 - Treats occupational diseases the same as injuries. SB 1092 - Repeals a section dealing with fault as inconsistent with Idaho’s no-fault system; clarifies appeals. This bill is unopposed. SB 1093 - Extends law prohibiting false statements by workers, a misdemeanor, to employers. SB 1095 - Pays for tuition, books and “other necessary attendant expenses” for injured workers undergoing retraining. SB 1096 - Allows orders to pay attorney fees to apply to Industrial Special Indemnity Fund.

From Commerce and Industry SB 1094 - Says a temporary employment agency must provide workers’ comp unless it has an agreement with the employer to provide it. Temps are not covered in the law now. This bill is unopposed. SB 1097 - Modifies procedures regarding suing a third party who causes injury to a worker. SB 1098 - Reduces disability payments by an amount equal to 50 percent of Social Security benefits starting at age 65, for a worker disabled when 60 or older. SB 1099 - Omnibus bill amends 18 sections of law, including changes regarding physician care, calculation of benefits for partially disabled workers, and cutting off benefits if intoxication was a major factor in an injury. - Betsy Z. Russell

This sidebar appeared with the story: DUELING LEGISLATION Here are the nine bills that would change Idaho’s workers’ compensation system:

From the Trial Lawyers SB 1091 - Treats occupational diseases the same as injuries. SB 1092 - Repeals a section dealing with fault as inconsistent with Idaho’s no-fault system; clarifies appeals. This bill is unopposed. SB 1093 - Extends law prohibiting false statements by workers, a misdemeanor, to employers. SB 1095 - Pays for tuition, books and “other necessary attendant expenses” for injured workers undergoing retraining. SB 1096 - Allows orders to pay attorney fees to apply to Industrial Special Indemnity Fund.

From Commerce and Industry SB 1094 - Says a temporary employment agency must provide workers’ comp unless it has an agreement with the employer to provide it. Temps are not covered in the law now. This bill is unopposed. SB 1097 - Modifies procedures regarding suing a third party who causes injury to a worker. SB 1098 - Reduces disability payments by an amount equal to 50 percent of Social Security benefits starting at age 65, for a worker disabled when 60 or older. SB 1099 - Omnibus bill amends 18 sections of law, including changes regarding physician care, calculation of benefits for partially disabled workers, and cutting off benefits if intoxication was a major factor in an injury. - Betsy Z. Russell

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