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Panel OKs workers' comp bill

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A state House committee last week passed a bill designed to reverse a court ruling last summer that triggered higher costs for workers' compensation insurance.

The House Labor & Industry Committee voted 16-9 to approve the bill, with the committee's Republicans all giving it a thumbs up. 

The bill, H.B. 1840, was introduced last fall in the wake of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that invalidated a cost-saving measure in the state's workers' compensation system. Workers' comp insurance premiums have risen in response.

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate, as S.B. 963.

The bill's passage by the House committee was welcomed by one small-business advocate.

"The activist court ruling created an untenable situation for small-business owners who now face huge premium increases," Kevin Shivers, executive state director of the National Federation of Independent Business in Pennsylvania, which represents 14,000 businesses statewide, said in a statement. "We are so grateful to the state House Labor and Industry Committee for approving the bill to fix this difficult situation."

Shivers urged the full House to pass the vote. As of Friday, no vote had been scheduled.

If enacted, the legislation would bring back the use of so-called impairment rating evaluations, or IREs, which had been voided by the Supreme Court ruling last summer. IREs had allowed companies to cap costs for paying out wages lost due to worker injury in certain cases.

Supporters of the court ruling have said other measures are available to control costs in the workers' comp system.

The ruling hinged on the use of a guidebook produced by the American Medical Association to determine the extent of a worker's injury. The court said reliance on the guidebook represented an unconstitutional delegation of authority by the legislature.

The House and Senate bills would update the law to answer the court's concerns.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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