July 15, 2019

Don’t turn clock back

Last weekend we all turned our clocks forward in a springtime ritual that will give us longer, brighter days. But in the Maine Legislature there are some who would turn the clock back to the dark days when Maine’s Workers’ Compensation system was mired in turmoil, creating what former Gov. Joe Brennan once called “a great retirement sylstem for lawyers.”

This Legislature, now controlled by Democrats with slim margins in both houses, has submitted dozens of bills to undo the successful 1992 reforms of Maine’s Workers’ Compensation system. Some estimates shows that proposed changes would add as much as 75 percent to workers comp premiums. Many small businesses in Maine could not survive this kind of cost run-up.

It is startling to think that in four years, these legislators would think the public has forgotten just how bad it was. The people of Maine remember that in 1991, Maine had the most expensive Workers’ Compensation system in the nation. Our insurance market was collapsing. Although we were requiring businesses to buy workers comp insurance, nobody could afford it. Finally, insurers began refusing to sell it.

After two years of thrasing the issue back and forth, legislation was passed creating the Blue Ribbon Commission. This bill called upon the governor and legislative leadership to appoint a four-member panel of independent and respected state leaders. It was through the insistence of Republican legislators and the governor that the resulting commission legislation was finally passed.

Today, Maine is a safer place to work than it was in 1992. There is a better climate for business and we have more jobs. The workers comp system works. In fact, it works better than any of its creators had ever envisioned. With fewer injuries, better benefit delivery, declining premiums and a culture of cooperation between management and workers, the current workers comp system is a model for reform across the country.

This is no time to change.

Maine was once the most expensive state for Workers’ Compensation insurance. Now we are 17th in the nation. We still have room to improve, but Maine’s economy is turning around in large part because of the Blue Ribbon Reforms. More than $100 million that used to be spent every year on premiums is now being invested in new jobs, business expansions, safety programs and increased wages.

The Democratic proposals to unrval the Blue Ribbon 1992 reforms are a direct assault on Maine’s economy. They threaten the stability and future of Maine’s Workers’ Compensation system. Not only is there not enough information or adequate data to support their proposals, they are in direct conflict with our new system: benefits at the national average and a process based on mediation and cooperation.

Since 1992, employers and employees are working together to improve safety at the workplace and expedite return to work after an injury. Employers and employees are in control of the system, managing the Workers’ Compensation Board. Let the board address any issues with their system.

We’ve come so far. Let’s no turn the clock back. Maine can’t afford it.

Richard H. Campbell is assistant House Republican leader.

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