Hawaii Chamber of Commerce Ready to Resume Legislative Battle to Reform Workers’ Comp

December 13, 2004

The Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii said it is ready to resume the legislative battle to reform workers’ compensation laws, an effort that was unsuccessful last year in spite of efforts by a number of business groups and the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

The advocates for updating Hawaii’s laws, following the state’s lead, made passionate, logical arguments that the package of bills presented to the Legislature would help address rising costs that made Hawaii’s workers’ comp costs third highest in the nation.

In the end, labor was reportedly not convinced and they held the edge in the Legislature. They told House and Senate members that the proposed laws did not adequately weigh the interests of injured workers against those of employers or insurance carriers.

In talking about how Hawaii workers are treated, Marcus Oshiro, chairman of the House Labor Committee, compared small-business owners with the owners of plantations 50 years ago.

The chamber, the largest lobbying group advocating change for broad-based business interests, is reportedly changing its approach by meeting with labor unions and other organizations to find areas of

When Nelson Befitel, director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, first presented his proposals on workers’ comp reform, they were reportedly positioned as a pragmatic, relatively noncontroversial start toward making the laws comparable to other states.

They dealt with issues such as fraud, both by employers and employees, and giving the employer more voice in where an injured employee receives medical care. Befitel reportedly worked hard to get his bills passed and was supported by the chamber and other business organizations.

But the bottom line was that there was little actual business support. There were 19 letters from various individual businesses submitted, but all were virtually identical, reportedly not a credible representation in the eyes of legislators already being pressured by labor.

The Hawaii chamber reportedly plans to build its base of support by seeking the involvement of the ethnic chambers of commerce. Plus, according to James Tollefson, president of the Hawaii chamber, his organization also will be working to bring the human element to lobbying by having more real businesspeople, especially those from smaller companies, talking in personal terms about issues.

In the last session, Tollefson said, business groups put on a successful defense, mainly by killing bills that would have a negative impact, especially in human resource areas. But, he admits, business has to do better in the offensive areas “because you’ve got to score to win.”

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