Workers' comp overhaul clears House committee despite opposition from Louisville police officers

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Workers’ compensation system is designed to assist people who are injured on the job. 

But some say the system itself is broken, and one plan to fix it is running into opposition from some first responders.

House Bill 2, which would revamp the workers’ comp system, passed a House committee Thursday despite fierce opposition from Louisville police officers like Mike Clark, who was helping a motorist on the Gene Snyder Freeway in 2011 when his life changed forever.

“I was hit by an intoxicated driver on the side of the expressway," Clark said. "It caused a back injury."

Two surgeries later, Clark said dealing with the workers’ comp system has been, “very difficult.”

Clark joined others at the Capitol on Thursday to oppose House Bill 2, which they fear will make the system even more difficult for injured workers to navigate.

“When it gets down to it, this is an effort to cut medical benefits,” workers’ comp attorney Ched Jennings told members of the House Committee on Economic Development and Workforce Investment. 

But supporters of the bill said the system needs to be streamlined and modernized to keep costs from skyrocketing for businesses and local governments.

“The Commonwealth of Kentucky now has the most expensive and the least-efficient workers compensation system in the nation,” said Tyler White, President of the Kentucky Coal Association.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce said the bill would improve Kentucky’s ability to compete with other states for business and help injured workers return to the job.

“I assure you that it is a top priority of every employer in Kentucky,” said Ashli Watts, the chamber’s Senior Vice President for Public Affairs.  

The bill essentially raises benefits for some injured workers, places a 15-year cap on benefits for others and sets up a process for renewing benefits that are set to expire.

Supporters said the changes would not affect anyone currently receiving benefits or those who are determined to be totally disabled. Opponents are unconvinced, telling lawmakers that injured workers should not have to jump through hoops to receive their benefits.

“All this stuff about making it more competitive is fluff,” Jennings said.

The debate lasted for two hours, but when it came to a vote, the bill passed the committee easily. The vote in the majority Republican committee fell largely along party lines.

Both sides are now bracing for a tough battle in the full House.

“These cities and these county sheriff's offices who hire these officers, they need some relief," said Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger), who sponsored the bill. "And if this bill doesn't pass, their rates are going to go up immediately and sharply."

Clark said he’s frustrated but determined.

“I'm not asking for much," he said. "I just want to be able to go to the doctor when my back is so bad I can't walk and get treatment."

House Bill 2 is based on a similar measure that passed the House in 2017 but died in the Senate.

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