Workers’ comp bill advances through Miss. House

Published 2:25 pm Friday, April 6, 2012

The Mississippi House on Thursday advanced a bill to make changes that manufacturers and business groups are seeking in the workers’ compensation system.

Senate Bill 2576 passed the House 59-58 and returns to the Senate for more work.

Among other things, the bill says if a worker is injured on the job, the employer could test the worker for drugs and alcohol.

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It also would require a worker to provide the employer with medical proof that an injury or illness is a direct result of the job if the worker’s claim is contested. And, it would increase the immediate payment to a spouse and funeral expense assistance in the event a worker is killed because of a job.

Supporters say the bill would balance a system that now favors workers.

“This is the biggest vote for business since tort reform,” said Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, prompting moans from some House members and whistles from others.

As he spoke, executives from the Mississippi Manufacturers Association looked down from a House balcony.

Opponents say the insurance system for paying for on-the-job injuries is already balanced and the changes would put too many hurdles between injured workers and payment.

Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, said the proposed changes are “worse than slavery” and “worse than lynching.”

“I don’t think that your people sent you down here to strip all the rights of the poor people,” Bailey told his House colleagues during the brief debate Thursday.

The bill started in the Senate. It passed the House 60-56 on March 29 but was held for more debate. That second round of debate came Thursday.

The Senate can either accept some changes that the House made and send the bill to the governor, or it can seek final negotiations with the House.