New Orleans Saints’ Workers’ Comp Bill Dies in Legislature

Louisiana state lawmakers are getting out of a dispute between New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and the NFL team’s players about how to handle workers’ compensation claims for professional athletes.

Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, said he’s shelving the workers’ comp bill he sponsored for the Saints organization this legislative session, hoping the two sides can negotiate a compromise.

House Bill 1069 would calculate workers’ compensation for professional athletes based on recent earnings, not future possible wages.

The NFL Players Association said the calculation would lessen the amount of workers’ comp the Saints pay in injury cases. Saints officials said they’re seeking to stop repeated lawsuits over workers’ compensation claims and put established case law into statute.

“I think that the bill moving as far as it had generated some healthy discussion between the parties and with me, and so I would like to see whether they can continue the dialogue with me to come up with something that both parties can live with,” Broadwater said.

The measure had received House support, but opposition intensified in the Senate. The bill narrowly got out of the Senate labor committee, and about 50 Saints players visited the Louisiana Capitol to urge senators to kill the proposal.

“It just shows how important workers’ comp is to us,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees told lawmakers in the House chamber.

With the controversy ended, lawmakers lined up for photos with the players. Brees told the House: “You all keep on doing a great job, and we’re going to continue to make you proud.”

Players receive per diems during offseason workouts and training camp. Under Broadwater’s bill, workers’ compensation benefits could be based on per diems — rather than the full annual value of a contract — if injuries occurred in the offseason, giving a player far less money depending on when he gets hurt.

Supporters of the proposal said it would pay athletes’ workers’ compensation under the same rules that other Louisiana employees have. Saints representatives said state appeals courts sided with the team’s interpretation of workers’ comp benefits in six of seven lawsuits on the issue.

Opponents of the bill said players hurt in the offseason shouldn’t get any less for their injuries than if they got hurt in a regular season game. They said the proposed change could discourage professional athletes from coming to Louisiana.

Eric Winston, president of the NFL Players Association, said in a statement the NFL should take “greater leadership on the issue of workers’ compensation to ensure players have equal treatment in every state.”

Broadwater said if the two sides don’t reach a deal before the 2015 legislative session, he’ll bring the bill again.

“I would much prefer them be part of coming up with a solution that everybody could live with. If they don’t, I’ll be back next year and seek to impose a legislative solution. But I’m hopeful that won’t be necessary,” he said.

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