The 1st legislative session of the 55th legislature adjourned May 22, one week early before our constitutionally required deadline of the last Friday in May. Because the Legislature faced a $611 million shortfall, to say it was a contentious session would be an understatement.
At the beginning of the legislative session, OSIA had 39 bills on our tracking list. As we progressed through session this number was reduced to just a handful we worked until the very last day. Last fall, the Legislature was very reluctant to file any title 85A bills. They felt we needed more time to let Senate Bill 1062 play its course and once you let one bill in you have to open it up to others. I was able to file two bills on behalf of the OSIA, House bill 2250 and senate bill 767. Chairman Sykes was the author of SB 767 and coauthor of HB 2250. He let HB 2250 die in his committee so we would only have his bill in the hopper.
Senate Bill 767 was a request bill from Chairman Barney Welch of the Workers’ Compensation Guarantee Fund. This was a cleanup bill to deal with some issues dealing with the process of assessments, 701 security funds and allowing the Fund to administer the claims. We worked this bill until the very last day of session when it finally passed. Unfortunately Sykes decided he did not want to make significant changes to the Fund or the Commission until after the new Commissioners were sworn in and they were afforded an opportunity to see what needed to change. I continue to work with Senator Sykes and Representative Echols to discuss these issues in an interim study this summer and fall. Chairman Welch believes that although the language needs to be codified, we will still be able to move forward as planned but want to get legislation passed next session.
The second bill we were dealing with at the end of session was House Bill 2238, a bill that came up during the budget negotiations. This bill dealt with the insurance carrier’s assessments for the Multiple Injury Trust Fund. Under the previous law, insurers were assessed to fund the MITF. Under that law, insurers were able to apply for and receive a rebate of 2/3 of the costs of the assessment. However, traditional carriers were only allowed to pass on 1/3 of this to their policyholders. Obviously, self-insurers were not able to pass on any of these costs.
As this bill was debated in the last week of session it came to light that this section was actually repealed in 2011 in Senate Bill 878 and then recodified. Since there was no express intent of the rebate in the recodification, the Oklahoma Tax Commission continued to pay the rebate. Since the Tax Commission continued to pay the rebate everyone presumed the intent remained. Without a doubt, the budget shortfall this session and the grab for money wherever they could find it provided the Legislature with a reason to spell out their intent. On June 1st, Governor Mary Fallin signed House Bill 2238 and to make her point clear also issued Executive Order 2015-28 expressing her intent to the Oklahoma Tax Commission not to issue the rebates.
To the Governor and the Legislature, they were simply codifying what they believed was already in the statutes. Our concern is that in 2238 the insurers got what they wanted and are now able to pass the full amount of the assessment on to their policyholders. The self-insurers now have to eat 100% of this cost. Since the bill happened in the last day of session we were not able to work an alternative into the bill to allow the self-insurers to offset this cost. However, I have already filed an interim study request to take a more in depth look at the assessment and see how we can get some relief for the self-insurers.
Needless to say, this was the most difficult session I have had to endure. The legislature was simply trying to find money that was not there. Many issues that seemed to be routine were caught up in the debate on the budget and passed down the line until next year. We started the week after session adjourned to file interim studies and get back to the table on these issues. I am confident we will find a way to address our original concerns and make the necessary changes to protect our members.
As always, please give do not hesitate to contact me if you would like further information on these issues. I know this was a very technical explanation in a short amount of space. I appreciate your continued support of OSIA and appreciate the opportunity to protect your interests at the Capitol.
Executive Director and Lobbyist, OSIA