Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Florida to Injured Workers: Deal With It.

California isn't the only state having workers compensation problems (see below). It's not bad enough that you get injured on the job, now Republicans in Florida are making sure that injured workers will have a hard time finding legal assistance to fight for their claims.

By literally stopping the legislative clock, Florida Republicans rammed through a bill to limit workers comp expenses primarily by limiting lawyers fees -- lawyers for workers, but not legal fees for the insurance companies fighting workers' claims.

"It's tremendous," said Bill Herrle, a lobbyist for the Florida Retail Federation. "It chases out the attorneys that are only in there only to hold a case up."

"The insurance companies made out like bandits," said Dwayne Sealy, an AFL-CIO official who served on the governor's study commission.

Florida workers get paid less when they get hurt on the job than virtually any other state, and Florida businesses pay the nation's second-highest rates for injury insurance.

Under the bill, a convenience store clerk raped at gunpoint would be limited to six months of psychiatric care.

That same clerk would have a more difficult time trying to sue any insurance companies that delayed or denied claims. The bill now limits fees her attorney would collect from the insurance company if she succeeded and would force her to pay the insurance company's legal fees if she lost.
There were apparently a few Republicans with a conscience, but their qualms were put to rest:
Republicans managed to quell growing opposition in their own party by adding a few last-minute amendments, including one of the most controversial provisions that would have required an injured worker to lose both arms, both legs, both hands, both feet, both eyes, or a combination of any two to qualify as permanently disabled for life.

Instead, they kept the existing definition of "catastrophic injury" that allows a person who loses one appendage to qualify. But Democrats noted that the bill included language that allows insurance companies to deny those benefits if the carrier or employer can prove the injured worker is "physically capable of engaging in at least sedentary employment" within 50 miles of his or her home.
Even the clocks were mysteriously on the Republicans' side:
Democrats also threatened to railroad the bill by stopping the Senate from extending the session past the chamber's legal 7 p.m. adjournment time. It takes a two-thirds vote to extend the adjournment time, and Democrats voting as a block could have run the clock out.

At one point the Senate clock stopped at 6:27 p.m. and stayed that way for about 15 minutes. King said there had been mechanical trouble with the electronic voting board where the clock is located.