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Tennessee opt-out route for workers compensation hits roadblock

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The Tennessee Advisory Council on Workers' Compensation has unanimously decided not to recommend a bill that would allow employers to opt out of the state's workers compensation system.

The advisory council this week voted 6-0 against recommending the Tennessee Employee Injury Benefit Alternative, H.B. 997 and S.B. 721, according to a report sent to the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday.

The bill, introduced in February, would allow private employers to provide injury benefit plans that are less comprehensive than state-mandated workers comp insurance. An amendment released Friday reportedly includes revisions to permanent partial and permanent total disability levels, though the bill text has not yet been updated online.

The amendment to the bill is a step in the right direction, but the proposed benefit levels are still not on par with what's currently available to injured workers under the state law, Abbie Hudgens, administrator for the Workers' Compensation Division of the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development in Nashville, said during the hearing.

“It is no surprise that a group who benefits from the workers comp system would vote against a free-market alternative,” a spokesman for the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers' Compensation said in an email. “Businesses and employees win when competition exists, and this is not the case in Tennessee unless the legislature passes an Option.”

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee is expected to vote on the bill Monday.