Politics

A bill that would overhaul the state’s workers’ compensation system continues to roll forward in the state legislature despite opposition from law enforcement and labor groups.

House Bill 2 is a top priority of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and is also supported by the Kentucky Coal Association, who say that businesses have to pay too much for workers’ compensation insurance.

Tyler White is the president of the Kentucky Coal Association.

“The workers’ compensation system is designed to compensate injured workers in attempt to get them back to work, benefiting themselves and their employer,” White said. “The system is not designed to sustain claims that extend well beyond the career span of an injured worker.”

The bill would limit workers’ compensation benefits to 15 years for workers with permanent-partial disabilities — that is, permanent injuries where an employee can return to work.

After that point, workers would have to reapply for benefits and have their case reviewed by an administrative law judge.

Currently, workers with permanent-partial disabilities receive lifetime benefits. If passed, the bill would only apply to future workers’ compensation claims.

Skylar Graudick, a Louisville police officer and lobbyist for the Fraternal Order of Police, said the bill unnecessarily adds hurdles for injured workers.

“It seems to send a clear message to us in public service that the state cares more about the idea of being business-friendly than actually taking care of the people who lay their bodies and minds and future well-being of their families on the line every day,” Skyler said.

The bill, which passed out of the Senate State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday, was amended to add partial amputations and the loss of a hand to the list of on-the-job injuries that can trigger lifetime medical benefits.

The bill partly comes in response to a 2017 state Supreme Court ruling that said it was unconstitutional for Kentucky’s workers’ compensation system to terminate benefits once an injured worker qualifies for Social Security benefits.

Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville, took issue with language in the bill that would give administrative law judges more discretion to deny claims made by injured workers who reapply for benefits after the 15-year period.

“When it says ‘may’ there on the first page, what you’re saying is you ‘may’ receive benefits if all of these things are present, not you shall receive benefits if all of these three things are present,” McGarvey said.

Rep. Adam Koenig, a Republican from Erlanger and the bill’s sponsor, said he would consider changing the language.

The bill passed out of the state House of Representatives last month and now will be considered by the Senate.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.