The Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council (WCAC), which met April 26th in Baton Rouge, voted on several bills, including Senator Luneau’s bill (which has already gotten through Senate Labor) that would require a hearing from a workers’ comp judge before benefits can be terminated for failure to attend a second medical examination or cooperate with vocational rehabilitation.
HB 828 – electronic notice of workers’ comp poster/rights and responsibilities
This bill was discussed previously at the March WCAC meeting. The concern from members and others was the fact that e-notice (like email or text message) could eventually replace the physical required poster informing workers of their rights in a convenient and conspicuous place.
WCAC Chair and OWCA Chair Sheral Kellar re-introduced this measure to the Council in terms of “gig economy” employees and telecommuters and said that electronic means may be a better way to communicate the information that employers must provide to employees regarding workers’ compensation laws.
Kellar said the problem that employers have with the bill is that “they do not want to post the notice and send notification electronically, they want to be able to do one or the other.” Kellar also said that she doesn’t expect this bill to go anywhere this year but that she expects it to move next year. Council members Maria Losavio and Marc Zimmerman stated that they had concerns about the bill because not everyone in Louisiana has internet access or a smartphone or an email address. Council member Alejandro Perkins said that he did not understand why employers couldn’t do both, “because it’s not that big of an expense to send an email or put up a poster.” Sheral Kellar asked Maria Losavio and a Louisiana Legislature attorney present at the meeting to address this issue with stakeholders to see what kind of changes could be made to improve the communication.
SB 536 – SMO/vocational rehab cooperation and benefit termination
Claimant attorney and Louisiana Workers’ Advocates President Trey Mustian presented this bill to the Council which would require a hearing in front of a workers’ comp judge in order to terminate benefits if a claimant misses a second medical opinion exam or refuses voc rehab. SB 536 already made it out of Senate Labor and Industrial Relations last week, but objections were raised to the bill on the Senate floor. Mustian said that the impetus of the bill was “to restore fairness” and move the system back to what it was before changes were made to the preliminary determination rules five years ago.
Council Michael Morris stated that he had concerns about the bill because “a compromise was reached years ago in the instances Trey [Mustian] is describing so that the 1002 was the employer’s mechanism to controvert.” When Kellar called for a vote, eight members voted to move the bill favorably. Michael Morris and Alejandro Perkins voted in opposition.
HB 451 – Louisiana-domiciled adjusters for workers’ comp
Kellar said that she believes this bill is “mainly a housekeeping measure” to bring workers’ comp in step with other lines of insurance, but stated that some insurers and insurer groups (notably, LASIE) have opposed it because it could incur additional costs. The measure essentially requires foreign insurers to maintain a Louisiana-licensed adjuster domiciled in the state for Louisiana workers’ comp claims. The WCAC voted unanimously to report the bill favorably with one member (Michael Morris) abstaining from the vote.
HB 790 – hearing loss
This bill would remove the language that requires a “single traumatic accident” to be the cause of hearing loss in order for a claimant to receive permanent partial disability status. The WCAC ultimately voted to report the bill favorably with seven yays and two nays (Perkins and Morris.) Zimmerman abstained from the vote.
Kellar asked the Council and the public to remain aware of the dedicated fund issue as it relates to OWCA assessments. The Joint Budget Committee amended their action so that the OWCA would keep its dedicated fund status but Kellar said that Senator Hewitt, who is spearheading the campaign to move dedicated funds to fees and self-generated revenue is likely to revisit the issue before the end of the Session on June 4th.
The new Second Injury Board questionnaire, which was discussed at several of the last six WCAC meetings, will take effect on June 20th, 2018, now that the public comment period has passed. In other administrative news, OWCA Deputy Director Pauline Williams also advised the public and Council to be aware that the Office is working on accepting electronic payments to collect assessments with the eventual goal of collecting all payments (records requests, hearing fees, etc.) electronically.
Chuck Davoli also led a discussion regarding the gig economy, and Kellar asked the Council to remain aware of how the issue regarding the classification of independent contractors (the Uber litigation in other states in particular) is playing out. Maria Losavio said that she would like to see Louisiana “jump on it” and get in front of the issue by taking some action on gig economy workers and how they are defined for the purposes of workers’ comp benefits and payroll deductions. Kellar also asked for volunteers for a task force on gig economy workers to be led by Chuck Davoli and Michael Morris, along with Darrick Lee (OWCA fraud section manager) and Pauline Williams.
The next WCAC meeting will take place at the LaSalle building in Baton Rouge on May 24th.
Members present: Sheral Kellar, Chuck Davoli, Julie Cherry, Michael Morris, Marc Zimmerman, Maria Losavio, Edwin Murray, Bray Williams, Jerry Jones, Alejandro Perkins, Shannon Lindsey
Members absent: Arielle Collins, Shannon Dartez, Mark Kruse, Pierce Nunley, Jennifer Marusak