WSI, lawmakers consider boosting workers’ benefitsWorkforce Safety and Insurance is considering several increases in workers’ benefits, including aid for job searching and a doubling of death benefits paid to workers’ survivors. In addition, a legislative leader is proposing bills that he said will make several WSI laws more fair. The 2009 Legislature would have to approve the proposed changes. WSI’s board heard the proposals during its meeting Thursday but didn’t take action.
By: By Janell Cole, N.D. Capitol Bureau, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Workforce Safety and Insurance is considering several increases in workers’ benefits, including aid for job searching and a doubling of death benefits paid to workers’ survivors.
In addition, a legislative leader is proposing bills that he said will make several WSI laws more fair.
The 2009 Legislature would have to approve the proposed changes.
WSI’s board heard the proposals during its meeting Thursday but didn’t take action.
“Today was just kind of a heads-up,” board Chairman Mark Gjovig of Williston said. The board will discuss bills again in October and December. The legislative session begins Jan. 6.
WSI itself is suggesting 10 changes in workers’ compensation laws. Two legislative committees are recommending nine more.
Some of WSI’s proposed changes:
* Expand the rehabilitation allowance period from a maximum 120 weeks to 124 weeks.
* Increase mileage reimbursement for treatment of aggravated injuries.
* Workers getting disability benefits would get $15 per week per dependent child, up from the current $10.
* Death benefits would increase. Burial expenses allowance would rise from $6,500 to $10,000; one-time payment to spouses would rise from $1,200 to $2,500 and to dependent children from $400 to $800.
* Vocational rehabilitation benefits would include two months of benefits for job-searching.
* Employers would no longer be charged $350 if a claim is filed more than two weeks after the worker was injured.
* Information on grants to employers, such as safety program grants, would become public.
Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, chairman of the Legislature’s interim Workers Compensation Review Committee, said his committee’s proposed changes include:
* Two changes to make the law covering police and firefighters’ injuries more fair.
* Allow injured workers a stipend to hire an attorney to review their case if they are unhappy with WSI’s decisions. The amount has not been set. Currently they must pay for it themselves.
* Change the Office of Independent Review to the Office of Decision Review to reflect it is part of WSI and not truly independent. A similar name change will make it clear that an independent medical “exam” is, in fact, usually a paper review of the workers’ medical records.
“Call it what it is,” Keiser said.
* Add partial loss of eyesight to the list of injuries that trigger a permanent partial impairment award.
* Change a law that, Keiser said, in effect punishes injured workers who go back to work part time and have their benefits cut when they get a raise at work.
* Change the law on mileage reimbursement from city-to-city miles to door-to-door miles.
Another legislative panel, the interim Industry, Business and Labor Committee, has proposed clarifying how WSI computes its surplus. State law limits how much money WSI can keep stockpiled and the agency has been in violation since the law passed in 2005.
Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Jamestown Sun