Governor John E. Baldacci has signed into law legislation to restructure the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board. The goal of the restructuring is to end the gridlock that has increasingly frustrated the board’s ability to carry out its statutory responsibilities.
The new law, LD 1909, An Act to Promote Decision Making within the Workers’ Compensation Board, takes effect immediately.
“Three weeks ago, when I unveiled this bill, we all recognized that it was a landmark day. The bill was brought to the legislature with the endorsement of both the AFL and the Chamber. Today as I sign the bill, with nearly unanimous support of the legislature, we have proven that historic restructuring is possible if we all work together,” Baldacci said.
The Governor was joined by Commissioner Buddy Murray, legislators, the presidents of the Maine AFL-CIO and Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and the chair of the restructured board, Paul Dionne.
Baldacci noted that for some time, the board has been paralyzed, unable to tackle event day-to-day administrative tasks.
Baldacci called the reform “historic” because it is the first major change in the structure since comprehensive reforms of the state’s injured workers’ system were enacted in 1992.
The bill leaves theboard’s decision-making to employees and employers. It also maintains the independent structure of the board apart from any other state department and preserves the heavy involvement of both labor and management in the board composition.
But it reduces the board to seven members, which Baldacci said keeps it a manageable size, yet one large enough to allow diverse labor and management input. Six of the seven members will continue to be equally divided between labor representatives and management representatives, selected in the same manner as under current law.
The seventh member of the board will be the executive director of the Workers’ Compensation Board, who will serve as the chair and as the chief executive officer of the agency the board oversees. Establishing a single chief executive officer and a clear chain of command will also fulfill the other key recommendation of the management studies that have been conducted. These changes will make the executive officer, as well as the board as a whole, more directly accountable to the citizens of the state of Maine, according to the plan.
The Governor will directly nominate the executive officer who would then be subject to legislative review by the Labor Committee and confirmation by the Senate.
Last spring Baldacci met with the Workers’ Compensation Board and outlined specific issues he wanted the board to address and established a time frame for the board to accomplish the task. The board worked over the course of the spring, summer, and fall to address the issues, but failed to resolve any of the issues. When it became apparent that the board could not overcome the deadlocked situation, Baldacci began developing legislation to alter the composition of the board.
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