The Connecticut Senate voted last week to expand workers’ compensation benefits to injured employees, despite cries from business advocates who claim the bill will help drive more companies out of Connecticut.
The bill passed 21-15. The House of Representatives has until Wednesday to act.
Proponents called the proposal is a “modest step” toward making Connecticut’s injured workers whole, while opponents said the bill is a boon to lawyers and it could increase workers’ compensation expenses for employers by more than 50 percent.
Connecticut already has some of the highest workers compensation costs in the country, according to the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.
“I am absolutely shocked the Senate is taking this up,” said Bonnie Stewart, CBIA’s vice president of government affairs. “This bill would truly be devastating.”
The bill extends the maximum number of weeks of additional benefits for partial permanent disabilities that a workers’ compensation commissioner may award after the worker has exhausted his or her regular benefits.
For example, the total loss of the use of an arm allows a worker to collect for up to 208 weeks. Partial loss of an arm, such as 10 percent for example, would result in benefits of 21 weeks. But the commissioner, under current law, has the discretion to double the benefits to 42 weeks. The new law allows the commissioner to grant to full 208 weeks for the partial injury.
“We are just saying is there will be an additional scope of discretion for commissioners,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven. “This is a fair measure. It is something that recognizes that in many cases, the mere partial permanent disability is not adequate.”
A company’s workers’ compensation expenses can range from 3 to 30 percent of total payroll costs, said Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut and member of a coalition of 125 organizations opposing the bill.
“This system isn’t broken. It’s working,” he said.
The bill’s approval comes two days after the Senate passed a bill that requires all employers with more than 50 workers to provide paid sick days. Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury, said it’s another cost that lawmakers are passing on to struggling businesses in Connecticut.
“People who run businesses know something,” he said. “If your costs outweigh your revenues, you’re not making any money. And if you can make money in another state, you will go there.”
But Sen. Tom Colapietro, D-Bristol, said he’s more worried about the workers.
“I happen to think if you don’t have a worker, you don’t have a business,” he said.