Republican lawmakers are hoping to overhaul Kentucky’s workers compensation laws with a bill that would cap how long people with some permanent on-the-job injuries can collect benefits, among other things.
The legislation would only require employers to pay benefits to workers with “permanent-partial disabilities” for 15 years. After that point, injured workers would be able to reapply for 2-year extensions.
Mike Clark is an officer with Louisville Metro Police. He injured his back during a collision with a drunken driver in 2011 and has had to have two surgeries to address a herniated disc that developed as a result.
“I know that down the road I’m going to have to deal with this issue again,” Clark said. “Cutting off medical benefits at 15 years, which is only several years from now, is really going to be hard for me because I’m still going to be dealing with my back.”
House Bill 2 would only apply to future workers compensation claims and would not affect workers with “permanent-total disabilities” like amputations, blindness or loss of hearing.
The legislation would also prevent workers compensation cases from being reopened more than four years after a claim is made and workers would have to file claims for cumulative trauma — injuries that build up over time — within five years of the most recent injury.
Rep. Adam Koenig, a Republican from Erlanger, said the bill would modernize the state’s workers compensation laws for the first time in more than 20 years.
“Every so often things change,” Koenig said. “We need to update and modernize our workers’ compensation law and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
The legislation is supported by business groups, who say it would help drive down workers compensation insurance rates and trim unnecessary claims.
Ashli Watts, with the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said the legislation would make the state more attractive to businesses.
“I can tell you absolutely that workers comp is one of their top concerns,” Watts said. “It is something that affects every single employer in Kentucky, whether you have two employees or 20,000.”
Rep. Al Gentry, a Democrat from Louisville, had his arm amputated above the elbow as the result of a construction accident 25 years ago.
“I could never support a bill that has this 15-year clause in it, because we’re removing that benefit from permanent-partially disabled people that might need that benefit later,” Gentry said.
A similar version of the bill passed out of the state House last year, but stalled in the Senate.