House Passes Workers Comp Reform Legislation

Last Thursday, the House passed one of the North Carolina Home Builders Association’s (NCHBA) key legislative priorities for the session, SB 174 (Disapprove Industrial Commission Rules). This bill is the last installment of the workers compensation reform effort initiated in 2011 by the passage of HB 709. That legislation made the Industrial Commission subject to the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) for the first time and required it to adopt rules in compliance with that act by 12/31/12.

Of the 150 proposed rules adopted by the Commission, the employer community formally objected to almost one third of them. Pursuant to the historic reform of the APA in the mid-1990s led by NCHBA, proposed rules that receive objections are subject to legislative review. Thus, SB 174, filed by Senator Harry Brown (R-Onslow), was introduced to disapprove those rules. The bill passed the Senate in mid-May by a vote of 36-9.

The bill was opposed by plaintiff trial lawyers who succeeded in blocking House consideration of the bill for several weeks. However, a concerted lobbing effort by the business community led to negotiations which ultimately produced a consensus bill. This compromise not only formally disapproved the proposed rules of major concern to the business community, it also provided specific legislative direction to the Commission on how replacement rules should be readopted. Major areas addressed by the compromise bill included protecting the definition of suitable employment in order to get injured employees back to work, assuring that employers have fair hearings on reinstatement of benefits, and improving the handling of medical motions.

Both Senator Brown and Representative Jonathan Jordan (R-Ashe), who managed the bill in the House, deserve much credit for the success of this legislation. The bill returns to the Senate for concurrence next week and then will be on its way to the Governor for his signature.

Source: NCHBA Monday Briefing

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