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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Proposed bill would alter worker’s compensation laws

Legislative Republicans circulated a bill last week that would significantly change the state’s worker’s compensation laws.

The proposal would diminish the amount of compensation owed to an employee who was injured due to negligence, reduce the statute of limitations for “traumatic injuries” to two years and require that employees seek treatment within the employer’s health care network.

The bill’s co-authors, state Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, and state Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, said the bill would prevent workers from abusing the system.

“This bill continues to ensure that when an employee is injured at work, the employee will be covered under worker’s comp with the goal of receiving the necessary treatment and returning to work within his or her limitations,” the authors wrote in a memo seeking co-sponsorship. “However the bill will also ensure that the system is not abused and the scales of justice remain balanced and impartial.”

The measure would also authorize the state to more aggressively investigate fraud claims and exempt employers from paying temporary disability payments if the employee is fired for good cause.

The memo said the bill incorporates changes proposed last session, in addition to adding “several measures that address fraud and unfairness within the worker’s comp system.”

State Rep. Christine Sinicki, D-Milwaukee, said the changes would be “devastating” to the system, which originated in the state over a century ago, and that it is a continuation of a series of attacks on Wisconsin workers.

“The most important part of this is striking down 100 years of history on worker’s comp,” Sinicki said, adding that the bill continues a “constant chipping away of worker’s rights and worker protections” initiated by Legislative Republicans.

Sinicki also accused the co-authors of circumventing the state’s Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council, a coalition of labor and business leaders which advises the Legislature on the issue.

“Republicans have disregarded the Advisory Council,” Sinicki said. “It’s not an agreed upon bill, therefore it is not properly introduced to the Legislature.”

Sinicki noted that the bill could be up for a public hearing as soon as next week.

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