Schweitzer Hints Disapproval of GOP Work Comp Bill

Posted on March 3, 2011

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By CODY BLOOMSBURG

HELENA — Gov. Brian Schweitzer told Republican leaders in a meeting Thursday he will not support a workers’ compensation insurance reform bill if there’s a chance it could make the problem worse.

“I would rather pass this along to the next Legislature, the way it is right now, than to pass a bill that 15 years from now the people are going to say ‘Who the heck was the governor back when we passed this crazy system here?’” Schweitzer said.

Montana has the nation’s highest workers’ comp rates, and business owners and politicians alike say those costs keep employers from hiring and run off entrepreneurs.

Both parties claim fixing it as a major concern this session and Schweitzer singled it out during his State of the State address.

After a few rounds of leading questions, Schweitzer hinted to House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, and Senate President Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, that he wanted to have a hand in changing the current legislative solution.

House Bill 334, by Rep. Scott Reichner, R-Bigfork, is the last standing workers’ comp fix, and it gets cuts costs by limiting the time a worker can receive benefits for a claim and increasing the degree of disability a worker must have before they qualify for lost-wage benefits.

Critics of the measure say it makes its savings at the expense of hurt workers while slightly increasing the payments to physicians.

But supporters say it will bring swift and sizable rate decreases.

The three men also discussed their differing revenue estimates. The arguments remained the same as they have since budget work began, with Schweitzer saying the estimates are low and Republicans saying his are high.

Milburn pointed out that the numbers really aren’t that far off, but it comes down the methodology by which they intend to budget.

He said his party is looking to tie spending to revenue and that one-time deposits, such as federal stimulus money, have stilted budget requests to a point that state revenues alone cannot support.

The goal, he said, is to bring spending back in line with revenue and leave a healthy cushion in the bank at the end of year.

All three agreed they were gunning for a solid reserve and they also agreed on upcoming eminent domain legislation.

Peterson said House Bill 198, by Rep. Ken Peterson, R-Billings, is being misrepresented in the press as a means to expand land taking power while all it really does is clarify the law after a recent ruling.

HB 198 would clarify that utility companies have the power to take land under eminent domain.

Schweitzer had also mentioned eminent domain fixes as a top need in his State of the State address and was pleased at the progress of HB 198.

– Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at 208-816-0809 or by e-mail at crbloomsburg@hotmail.com

Posted in: Daily Grind