Topeka — Labor officials are not happy with the Kansas Legislature.
Citing a recent report that lists Kansas as one of the nation's 10 most deadly states in workplace safety, labor officials said Wednesday the 2013 Legislature will be remembered as one of the most anti-worker legislatures ever.
"Far too many people are dying on the job in this state and instead of strengthening protections for working people, our elected officials are further rigging the system against Kansas workers," said Bruce Tunnell, executive vice president of the Kansas AFL-CIO. "Their misplaced priorities will mean that the health and well-being of more working people are at risk on the job."
An AFL-CIO report said that 78 workers were killed on the job in Kansas in 2011, a rate of 5.9 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to the national average of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. In addition, 41,000 workplace injuries and illnesses were reported, which was a rate higher than the national average. Kansas ranks 40th in workplace safety, according to the report.
But instead of addressing these safety issues, Tunnell said, the Legislature approved and Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law measures that make it more difficult for injured workers to collect workers' compensation.
Senate Bill 187 puts the appointment of workers' compensation judges more in the hands of businesses and insurance providers. Business groups said the former system favored nominees who were the least objectionable, and not necessarily the most qualified.
Senate Bill 73 reduces the time an injured worker can report a workplace injury, and puts in place new impairment guidelines for injured workers that organized labor has opposed. Supporters of the bill said the new impairment ratings were simply an update.
Topeka — The Senate Commerce Committee on Monday recommended approval of a workers' compensation bill opposed by labor and trial lawyers.
Pro-business interests said Senate Bill 73 updated medical guidelines dealing with workers injured on the job and the employer-paid insurance system to compensate them.
The bill would use the American Medical Association Sixth Edition of injury impairment ratings, rather than the Fourth Edition which is currently used and agreed to two years ago by both sides of workers' comp litigation.
Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said the proposed change was a mistake.
"I have a huge concern that there are classes of workers out there who will no longer qualify for work disability," under the newer edition, he said.
Trial lawyers and labor officials said the Sixth Edition guidelines were untested and would be confusing to Kansas physicians who had become accustomed to the Fourth Edition.
Holland's amendment to keep the Fourth Edition was rejected.
But several Republicans also expressed concern about changing to the Sixth Edition and an amendment was approved to delay its implementation until 2015.
The committee also removed a proposal in the bill that would have disallowed payment through workers' compensation insurance coverage to undocumented workers.
In addition, Sen. Jim Denning, R-Overland Park, successfully amended the bill to shorten to 10 days from 20 days the time an injured worker has to file a workers' comp complaint.
Some on the committee said the shorter period would increase the number of workers' comp disputes because workers would be faced with a tighter deadline to decide to pursue a claim. But Denning said the shorter deadline would encourage workers to get treatment while giving employers more certainty about whether they would face an injured worker claim.