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June 20, 2006

Leading lawmakers introduce sweeping workers' comp reforms

Leading members of the state Senate and Assembly have announced the introduction of new workers’ compensation legislation which includes cost-saving reforms and benefit increases.

The legislation would also reform the state’s notorious Scaffold Law by allowing evidence of worker negligence and employer safety in determining liability.

The changes, which the Workers’ Compensation Rating Board said could save business 18 percent in the first year and 12 percent thereafter, would also place limits on the duration of permanent partial benefits.

The bill is being sponsored in the Assembly by Darrel Aubertine (D-Watertown), Joan Christensen (D-Syracuse), RoAnn Destito (D-Utica), David Koon (D–Fairport), Donna Lupardo (D-Binghamton), William Magee (D-Oneida), Joseph Morelle (D-Monroe), and Robin Schimminger (D–Buffalo).

Senate sponsors include James Alesi (R–Fairport), Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton), Michael Nozzolio (R-Seneca Falls), Mary Lou Rath (R–Buffalo), Joseph Robach (R-Rochester), James Seward (R–Oneonta), Dale Volker (R-Depew), George Winner (R–Elmira), and James Wright (R-Watertown).

Permanent-partial benefits make up 11.7 percent of all comp cases but 73 percent of the aggregate cost of workers’ comp. New York is one of only nine states that does not limit the duration of awards in these cases.

The bill would place limits on the duration of permanent partial benefits. The three-tier system would begin at 250 weeks and extend to a maximum of 500 weeks. The benefits would be based on the injured worker's loss of wage-earning capacity.

The bill would also offset weekly benefit amounts if a claimant returned to work before scheduled benefits expired, and create a special review for injured workers who lose more than 80 percent of their earning capacity.

The bill would also:

The bill is also being championed by a coalition of Upstate business groups called Unshackle Upstate. The coalition includes 23 groups working together under to reform state policies that stunt economic growth.