How Legislation is made in the Workers’ Compensation Arena
You have heard it said that watching legislation be created is like making a good Italian cook make sausage! Well, that analogy is a truism for a reason. In the field of workers’ compensation, let me try to explain how an idea becomes a bill, and in many cases a bad bill intended to hurt the injured worker.
In Georgia, we have an Advisory Council (A.C.). It consists mostly of non-elected people who are “stakeholders” in the workers’ compensation system. By that I mean the title of most of the A.C. members give to us their background and their business interest. Most of these folks do not represent the interests of the injured worker. For instance, the employer, the insurance company, the insurance agency, insurance lawyers, doctors of all types and training, diagnostic facilities, car dealerships, manufacturing interests, quarry associations, all represent big organizations that get paid in the workers’ compensation system. And frankly, many of these groups care little about the injured worker.
Then there is the trial lawyer, the lawyer who is representing the interests of the injured worker. There is also the union representative (11% of businesses in Georgia are unionized). These two groups are the only ones trying to represent the injured worker on the A.C.
There is now in place at the General Assembly (the Georgia Legislature) a custom that states that no piece of legislation will be presented to any legislative committee unless it is presented first, in detail, to the Advisory Council. The A.C. assigns the proposed legislation to an internal committee who meets to debate and decide on the merits of the proposed bill. This is the battleground of many wars for various pieces of legislation. Various committee members take sides, depending upon what type of stakeholder they are. The injured worker, lawyer, and union representative are so overwhelmed that they can barely stop the bulldozers. But wait, there is hope on the horizon.
Over the last ten years, slowly, the injured workers’ lawyers have been building relationships with the individual legislators who are in their own home districts. By establishing personal relationships with their home legislators, they provide resources, opinions, examples of what good and bad legislation looks like in the workers’ compensation arena. This grassroots effort has cut down many a harmful piece of legislation. Organization, lobbying, and fundraising as well as personal ties have saved the day. We must be ever vigilant because the forces of the stakeholders who will harm the injured worker are still at large every day.
–THOMAS F. BROWN, II