Legislation to create a workers’ compensation alternative in Tennessee is already facing serious setbacks in the just started legislative session, despite being amended in 2015 and refiled in 2016. An emerging scandal involving one of the lawmakers sponsoring the bill may have hindered its second chance of getting through the state legislature.
However, advocates for workers’ compensation options say that their efforts in the state are not over yet and they are working with other legislators to get a workers’ comp alternative passed.
State lawmakers Sen. Mark Green and Rep. Jeremy Durham introduced bills to establish the Tennessee Employee Injury Benefit Alternative (TEIBA) during the 2015 session. The goal of the legislation, they said at the time, was to give private employers in Tennessee the option to opt-out of private insurance plans. Instead, employers would create and implement their own either fully insured or self-insured occupational injury benefit plans for their employees.
The group worked with the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers Compensation (ARAWC) in developing the legislation, which was modeled after the option models currently utilized in Texas and Oklahoma. The opt-out model offers a cost savings to employers in the state, proponents said.
Green and Durham were unable to get the bills passed in their original form by their respective chambers in 2015. Opponents, including the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Board, questioned aspects of the original bill and if employers would run responsible workers’ compensation programs.
Lawmakers amended and revised the option legislation with the intention of trying again this year, according to Green.
“The bill is now in its ready state and when the committees open in the House and next year we should get it through,” Green wrote in an email to Insurance Journal last year.
That plan may have been derailed since news broke of accusations against Durham by three different women who say they were sexually harassed by the lawmaker via text message. According to Tennessee media outlets, Durham has since resigned as the House majority whip and is now on a leave of absence. A hearing that was scheduled in the House for the option legislation on Feb. 10 was cancelled and The Memphis Business Journal reported there doesn’t appear to be any intention of bringing back the legislation this session.
But ARAWC said its work on introducing an opt-out model isn’t done yet.
“The bill is not dead. The legislative session is just gearing up in Tennessee,” said AJ Donelson, spokesperson and consultant for ARAWC. “In the coming weeks, ARAWC members and Tennessee employers will continue to have conversations with legislators about the benefits to employees and employers of enacting a Tennessee option.”
Sen. Green did not respond to requests from Insurance Journal on if he is still working to get the revised Senate version of the opt-out legislation passed, but a spokesperson in Green’s office said that bill wouldn’t be pulled out and heard this session. The bill was assigned to the General Subcommittee of Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee in October.
Donelson said ARAWC is currently working with state lawmakers, including Sen. Green, on introducing an opt-out bill in 2016 but said there were no details at this time on when exactly that would be.
“The sponsors are taking their time to carefully craft a Tennessee option. We look forward to Tennessee legislators further considering of a workers’ comp option,” he said.