COMPENSATION REFORM BILL
The Senate State Affairs Committee finished work today on Senate Bill 5, which would make drastic changes to the state's workers compensation system. Senator Todd Staples of Palestine, who sponsored SB 5, said the state must reform workers comp, because the state pays far too much for treatment for injured workers, without seeing comparable results. According to Staples, workers comp in Texas costs about 25% more in Texas than the national average. SB 5 would make a number of changes in an effort to improve treatment of injured workers in order to get them back to work faster, while bringing down the overall cost.
SB 5 would eliminate the current 6-member commission that oversees workers comp issues in the state in favor of a single commissioner. According to Staples, a single commissioner would be better able to respond to market changes, and would be more accountable to citizens and workers. The legislation would also create a workers comp treatment network, based on the model of network health care currently used by many businesses. It would reduce the time an injured worker would have to wait before he or she could seek treatment from the workers comp system. SB 5 would also mandate close co-operation between the Texas Workers Compensation Commission and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.
Senators added a number of amendments to the bill in committee. One amendment allows certain exemptions from the network system in cases involving emergency care, outside referrals, or special consideration if a patient lives outside of a network area. Another amendment preserves the rights of patients to choose who treats them within the network.
The Nominations Committee approved the appointment of two Texas Supreme Court Judges today. Current Supreme Court Justice Wallace B. Jefferson was appointed by the governor to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, in order to fill a vacancy left by former Chief Justice Tom Phillips. Jefferson was appointed to the court in 2001 to fill a vacancy left when Justice Albert Gonzales became chief counsel to President George W. Bush. Jefferson is the first African-American to serve on the state's highest court. The committee also heard from nominee David M. Medina. Both candidates were questioned about judicial philosophy, judicial elections, and campaign funding issues before being confirmed. Both nominees must be approved by the whole Senate before they can take office.
The Senate will reconvene Tuesday, March 8, at 11:00 A.M.