Workers’ comp bill survives, but farther away from passage

JACKSON — A bill that would revise Mississippi’s workers’ compensation system survived attempts to kill it yesterday, but ended up farther away from passage.

After earlier rejecting proposed changes to the system of worker injury insurance, House members reversed themselves and voted 60-56 Thursday to approve Senate Bill 2576.

Yesterday, though, House members blocked sending the bill on to the Senate, so that chamber could consider House amendments. After a period of parliamentary confusion, House Insurance Committee chairman Gary Chism, R-Columbus, got members to agree to let him recall the bill later. The House would have to re-pass the bill to send it forward.

“Nobody’s really sure about this piece of legislation,” said House Minority Leader Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto. Moak led forces on the floor who stalled the bill’s return to the Senate.

Chism said that members were lobbied intensely over the weekend to pull back the measure

“I think there’s still a lot of movement on this particular bill,” Chism said. “I believe the bill will pass. It will be a very close vote.”

Some House members have shifted on the bill over time. Proponents say it would reform workers’ compensation, correcting a bias toward employees that they say has built up over the years. Opponents say the bill tips the scales to employers, making it harder for workers to collect money when they get hurt.

The bill’s changes include a provision to allow employers to test employees for alcohol and drugs if they are injured on the job. It would also require employees to provide the employer with medical proof that their injury or illness is a direct result of their job if their claim is contested, and would increase the immediate payment to a spouse and funeral expense assistance in the event an employee is killed because of their job.

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