STATE OF HAWAII
Senate Democrats say Lingle’s
proposal might be an attempt to
skirt the legislative process
Gov. Linda Lingle's second attempt to make Hawaii's workers' compensation system more business-friendly was dealt two setbacks yesterday by majority Democrats in the state Senate.
The Senate Labor Committee indefinitely deferred the administration's wide-ranging reform proposal and advanced a measure that would bar the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations from making any administrative rule changes to the current system.
Sen. Brian Kanno, committee chairman, said Democrats were concerned that recent changes proposed to administrative rules were an attempt by the Republican governor "to go around the legislative process."
State Labor Director Nelson Befitel noted that the proposal "suspiciously" returns the rule-making power to the department in 2011 -- essentially the rest of Lingle's current term and another four years if she is re-elected.
"I'm disappointed that they pretty much handcuffed the department's hands in improving the system," Befitel said. "Since 1963 they gave the director authority to promulgate rules, and suspiciously they're taking it away."
Kanno (D, Kalealoa-Makakilo) would not say the proposal targeted Lingle.
"The date is just set out there as a date," he said, "to say that at this point, because of what's been happening, we want these kinds of changes in the workers' compensation law to rest with the Legislature and not to be undertaken through the administrative rules process."
One key part of the Lingle plan would require that injured workers who do not seek treatment from their family physician would have to select a provider from a network of doctors established by employers.
The governor's plan also would, among other things, bar workers from filing a claim for stress when it results from personnel actions taken in good faith, and require that a worker's primary physician be a medical doctor, dentist, osteopath or podiatrist who could then refer the injured worker to an alternative-care specialist such as a chiropractor or naturopath.
Unions and workers who testified overwhelmingly against the reforms noted that Lingle's proposals are similar to rule changes being considered by the labor department.
Among the proposed changes -- discussed at a public hearing Monday -- is that any treatment sought by a worker would have to be "evidence-based medicine" with alternative treatment allowed if it is deemed necessary under those treatment guidelines.
Another proposal seeks to clarify the definition of "disciplinary action" to provide "clear directives of types of personnel action that are precluded under workers' compensation laws."
Befitel noted that the proposals were reviewed and approved by Attorney General Mark Bennett's office. He also said his department is reviewing the testimony from Monday's hearing and has no firm timetable for when any changes, if any, would take effect.
"It's not a done deal," he said. "We're considering those comments very carefully."
The Senate bill would still need approval from the full chamber and the House before it could go to the governor. House lawmakers heard similar bills yesterday but took no action.