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Did texting scandal derail Tennessee workers comp opt-out effort?

Did texting scandal derail Tennessee workers comp opt-out effort?

Just three weeks into Tennessee's legislative session, a bill that would have allowed private employers to opt out of the state's workers compensation system appears to have fizzled.

State Sen. Mark Green and Rep. Jeremy Durham, both Republicans, introduced the Employee Injury Benefit Alternative in February 2015, but the legislation hit a roadblock in March when the state's Advisory Council on Workers' Compensation unanimously decided against recommending it.

Nearly one year later, H.B. 997 was taken “off notice” on Monday by Rep. Durham, meaning it won't be heard by the Tennessee House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee on Feb. 10 as had been planned.

While the bill hasn't been formally withdrawn in the Tennessee Senate, Sen. Green's office said Wednesday not to expect movement on the companion bill, S.B. 721, until next year.

Meanwhile, Rep. Durham announced his resignation as House majority whip in January after reports that he allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to three women.

While his office confirmed he's taking a leave of absence to “work on himself and his family,” it declined to comment on the allegations.

The Tennessee Employee Injury Benefit Alternative borrows language from Oklahoma, which passed opt-out legislation in 2013, and Texas, which has allowed employers to opt out of buying workers comp insurance for more than 100 years.

South Carolina has also weighed allowing employers to provide injury benefit plans that are less comprehensive than state-mandated workers comp insurance. However, H.B. 4197, introduced in May by Republican Rep. David Hiott, hasn't been revisited so far this year.

The Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers' Compensation, which worked with legislators in Tennessee last year to draft opt-out legislation, said the group will “continue to have conversations with legislators about the benefits to employees and employers of enacting a Tennessee option,” the goal of which is to “complement the workers compensation reforms enacted in 2013.”

However, it's likely that Tennessee lawmakers won't consider such changes until 2017.

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