December Editorial Winner

Make it work

WAYNE TROTTER, The Countywide & Sun

Oklahoma has a new workers’ compensation law. It was even ruled constitutional by the State Supreme Court this week. It’s about time.
There was a lot of rejoicing in the business community when the court gave the new law its okay earlier this week. The attack on the new approach was largely based on the possibility the Legislature had engaged in “logrolling” again. The court said nothing of the kind had happened.
What’s logrolling? Boiled down, it’s getting your way by leveraging one thing to obtain another. Politicians like to do that. To keep them honest, the Constitution says every bill must be restricted to one subject and one subject only.
In the years the Democrats controlled the Legislature, they learned how to deal with this. With only a few years of command under their belts, the Republicans are having trouble. One day after the court said “fi ne” to the new workers’ comp setup, it zapped the income tax cut, another GOP favorite. Nevertheless, joy spread through corporate offices when the news got out that the workers’ comp reform had been approved.
“Today’s decision is obviously very good news for the business community,” said Fred Morgan, president of The State Chamber of Oklahoma. “We hope the new law can be implemented promptly.”
There were celebrations at the state capitol as well. “I am excited the state can move forward with improvements that will help to encourage job growth and investment in Oklahoma while delivering on a more efficient, effective and fairer workers’ compensation process,” said Gov. Mary Fallin, Tecumseh’s favorite daughter.
Gov. Fallin, Mr. Morgan and other members of the business elite had a right to be happy. When the GOP captured both houses of the Legislature and then re-captured the governor’s office, they found what they knew was there — a huge mess in the way Oklahoma handled workers’ compensation. The new governor had been working on the problem for years and was able to nibble a little at the core causes while she was lieutenant governor.
Now the Republicans had enacted what they considered the ultimate fi x. They would tear the whole thing down and start over. That’s essentially what the state is doing. We say that should’ve been done years ago.
About 15 years ago, maybe longer, the proprietor of this newspaper was hired to assess a similar operation in Washington State. The question was whether a potential buyer could make his new acquisition turn a profit if he didn’t do any work himself. The newspaper in question was remarkably similar to this one. It grossed about the same amount of money, employed about the same number of people, and produced about the same size product every week.
When the study was done, some alarming facts emerged. Yes, an absentee proprietor could turn a profit on the Washington property. But if he tried it in Oklahoma, he would lose money. One of the major differences was the high cost of workers’ compensation in the Sooner State. Another was the lower cost of hospitalization insurance at that time in Washington. That might have been related to workers’ comp costs too.
Now, here’s the truth: Oklahoma, like most every other state, started out with the workers’ comp law that was wonderfully intended. Its goal was to make sure that people who were injured on the job were properly cared for and compensated. That goal, great as it was, got compromised over the years.
What compromised the law? Greed. Pure, unmitigated greed.
And who was greedy? Practically everyone associated with the old judicial workers’ comp system, excluding some but not all of the judges.
The lawyers got slicker and greedier to increase their incomes.
Some businessman tried to cheat around the edges to increase their income as well. They were greedy too. Some deadbeat employees faked injuries to collect more and longer benefits. They were just as greedy.
By the time the Republicans took over, every one of these interests had some kind of stranglehold on the old Democratic Party. The lawyers were major contributors. Some of the workers were associated with interests which exerted strong influence over the party. The corrupt businessmen generally had cast their lot with the Democrats because Democrats had controlled the state from the inception.
So the Republicans cleaned it up, and they had to tear it down before they could build it back. The new structure is an administrative one, and it should work.
But everybody needs to remember why this had to be done. Let’s make this one work.

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