Senator Todd Staples of Palestine has laid out a substitute for Senate Bill 5, the comprehensive workers compensation reform bill. During testimony today, he said the substitute addresses some of the concerns voiced by the public last week at an earlier hearing. Among those changes is a clarification on the qualifications for the position of Commissioner of the Texas Department of Workers Compensation (TDWC). SB 5 would dissolve the current 6-member committee that oversees workers comp issues in Texas, in favor of a single commissioner. The substitute to SB 5 would require that the single commissioner have the same qualifications as the commissioner of the Texas Department of Insurance. Staples said the change was made in order to make the requirements for the top official at the TDWC less vague.
Changes to SB 5 would not allow a physician to serve as a "designated doctor" under certain conditions. A designated doctor is a doctor who advises the TDWC in issues relating to workers compensation, such as degree of injury or whether or not a person can return to work. If a doctor works for one of the workers comp treatment networks established by SB 5, then he or she is ineligible to serve as a designated doctor for TDWC.
The State Affairs committee also heard testimony on Senate Bill 294, which relates to civil trial jurisdictions. Witnesses testified that Texas sees more than its share of personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits due to a statue that forbids judges from dismissing a case if an act or omission is a "proximate or producing cause" of the death or injury. The case in point involved a man seeking damages for asbestos-related injuries. This man was from Michigan, and had filed suit against manufactures in Michigan. All salient parties in the case, including the prosecutor and witnesses were also in Michigan. The case was filed in Texas because a glove was manufactured by one of the defendants in Texas. The presiding judge was unable to dismiss the case because the glove was a "proximate or producing cause" of the injury. SB 294 would delete this phrasing from the statute in order to give judges more flexibility in such matters.
The Senate will re-convene Tuesday, March 1st, at 1:30 P.M.