Oklahoma’s Controversial “Opt Out” Legislation Fails (At Least Temporarily)

Late Wednesday evening, supporters of a controversial bill that would allow some Oklahoma employers to “opt out” of the state’s traditional workers’ compensation system [see Oklahoma House Bill 2155] fell short of having sufficient votes to move the legislation through the Oklahoma House of Representatives. With 42 House members voting in favor of the bill and 50 members voting against, it appears unlikely that the measure will become law. On April 18, the Oklahoma Senate had passed the bill, by a 28-17 vote. Many were surprised by Wednesday’s negative vote since an earlier version of the bill, with many of the same provisions, had actually passed in the House in mid-March by a margin of greater than 3 to 1.

House Bill 2155 would allow qualifying employers to establish written benefit plans pursuant to the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). While the ERISA plans would be required to provide benefits at the same or higher level as under current law, some critics, pointing to somewhat similar plans established by opt out employers in Texas, say the practical effect of House Bill 2155 would be to diminish significantly the disability and medical benefits injured workers might receive in Oklahoma.

An Oklahoma colleague told me earlier today that “the bill is in its coffin, but the lid isn’t nailed down quite yet.” Using a legislative maneuver that’s a bit over my apolitical head, the Speaker of the Oklahoma House can apparently bring the matter back up for a vote within three legislative days of Wednesday’s unsuccessful balloting. It was not brought up yesterday (Thursday). The House is recessed today, so it would appear that supporters have until COB Tuesday to garner the votes necessary to favorably pass on the matter. I’ll keep you posted.

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