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OHIO EMPLOYERS face a formidable challenge in November to persuade voters in the state to uphold a broad and significant workers compensation law.
Having already convinced lawmakers of the need for the reforms, which passed the Legislature and were signed into law earlier this year, the state's businesses now must bring their case to the people.
Labor unions and trial attorneys in the state organized a successful petition drive this summer to place an initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot requiring voters' assent before the reforms take effect (BI, Sept. 8). Under state law, the filing of the petition signatures halted implementation of the reforms.
Business groups in the state are calling the drive by labor and attorneys a political move rather than a practical one on behalf of workers. We agree. Indeed, the supporters of the initiative are seeking to overturn the entire law, rather than specific provisions-several of which clearly benefit workers. It no doubt rankles the ballot organizers that employers won such gains from lawmakers, but killing the entire law is cutting off one's nose to spite one's face.
The stakes for employers in this ballot battle are extremely high: If the reforms are shot down at the polls, Ohio employers' workers comp costs are likely to remain high, and legislators are unlikely to be willing to revisit the issue of workers comp reform for some time.
That's unfortunate, because a ballot initiative rarely is the indicator of the "voice of the people" it is made out to be. The main reason for this is voter apathy, which often results in a minority of the population casting ballots. And, voters' minds can be swayed easily by personal biases and glitzy advertising campaigns, not by a true understanding of the issues.
We hope employers will not display the same sort of apathy and will defend these reforms. A valid case can be made that the reforms get workers back on the job quicker, eliminate delays in paying claims and pay workers rather than attorneys.
Take provisions in the law that limit the life of most claims to five years, rather than 10 years, and cut to 26 weeks from 200 weeks some wage-loss benefits for injured employees who are capable of working but can't find a job.
Those measures will encourage able workers to return to work more quickly or find other employment.
Another provision of the reform law streamlines hearing procedures for disputed claims, reducing the need for attorney involvement.
This will speed up the resolution of disputed claims and payment of benefits to deserving workers while lowering system costs and workers' legal expenses.
Yet another provision limits the compensability of diseases to which the general public is exposed, unless they specifically arise from an occupational exposure.
This ends past abuses, or outright fraud, in which workers comp claims are made for injuries incurred off the job.
Ohio employers have to make the case that approving the workers comp reforms benefits all Ohioans.
Eliminating inefficiencies in the workers comp claims system clearly benefits both the employee and employer. Reducing workers comp costs means more money is available to invest in vital areas, such as job expansion and employee benefits, that help employees and citizens.
A strong workers comp reform law makes the state attractive to businesses, which benefits everyone.