Last week, the all-important Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee voted on two major issues impacting worker's compensation in our state. On both votes, Joint Finance removed the two Budget proposals, opting, instead, to keep the current well-run and efficient system!
As we reported in a previous post (MORE changes to Work Comp: Elimination of Court Reporters & Appeals Commission?), the Budget Bill proposed dramatic changes to Wisconsin's top notch worker's compensation system: (1) eliminating the use of live court reporters in litigated hearings; and (2) eliminating the independent appeals commission (Labor and Industry Review Commission, or LIRC) that reviews judge decisions.
After public hearings on these proposals and lobbying efforts from various industry stakeholders, the Joint Finance Committee voted to preserve the current structure of the work comp system.
Indeed, the Committee rejected the Budget proposal to eliminate the LIRC-retaining the second-level appeals commission that has helped shape Wisconsin work comp law virtually since its inception in 1911. While some vacant staff positions go away, LIRC remains in place for future appeals of work comp, unemployment, and equal rights cases. As the LIRC websitestates:
LIRC is an independent Wisconsin administrative agency established to provide a fair and impartial review ... The commission's decisions provide consistency, stability, and integrity to the programs for the employers, employees, insurers, and citizens of the State of Wisconsin.
As part of keeping LIRC, the Committee also voted for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to conduct a further study about LIRC's interpretation of the statutes. The upshot of the vote is for LIRC to remain for the next biennium.
The Committee also voted to keep the status quo and retained the use and funding for court reporters in litigated worker's compensation hearings. These stenographic court reporters are necessary to the efficient functioning of the system by ensuring decorum in the court room, properly managing exhibits, making sure parties do not talk over each other, and creating an accurate and legitimate transcript. The initial Budget propsal involved eliminating court reporters in exchange for ill-defined audio recording equipment. Many system stakeholders (employees, employers, and carriers) raised signficant concerns about having six to seven figure case exposures decided based on unknown or questionable audio technology. The costs of such "equipment" were also not described or budgeted.
As part of the Joint Finance Committee deliberations, the state's Legislative Fiscal Bureau provided options for the use of court reporters: eliminate them, keep them, or keep them but submit the issue for further study. The Committee selected the later option, which involved keeping the current use and funding for the all-important court reporters.
Furthermore, the Commitee requested a study to be conducted (and submitted to the Advisory Council) about the viability and use of potential audio recording equipment. This makes good sense. We are a first-in-the-nation work comp system. If there is technology that exists, we need to research it and make sure it works efficiently and cost-effectively for our work comp system. Let's get it right! Ultimately, we may discover (like many other states have) that live in-person court reporters still beat out any potential audio recording equipment.
First, I'd like to thank the state legislature's Joint Finance Committee for their thoughtful consideration of the concerns from the work comp stakeholders.
As to procedural issues, following the Joint Finance Committee votes last week (and further completion of the votes on other major issues), the Budget ultimately proceeds to the full legislature and then to the Governor's desk for approval or veto.
As of right now, the Joint Finance Committee recognized what many stakeholders preach: the Wisconsin work comp system works well now, so avoid dramatic changes that could upset the historic stability.