Arkansas workers injured on the job and the families of workers killed on site are facing the prospect of an eight year, eight month limit on workers compensation benefits. The Arkansas House barely passed the bill to restrict benefits with the needed supermajority on Monday. It follows a 2016 law ending the state’s contribution to a compensation fund assisting employers and their insurance pay claims.
State Representative Charlie Collins argued it had to be done to help business interests, who help pay for the benefit.
“Because the government’s insurance fund was going way over, and we owe a lot of money, we eliminated that fund. That fund had a cap to it,” said Collins. “In today’s world without any type of a cap we’re at risk of having exorbitant increases over time on Arkansas businesses and their insurance rates.”
The Fayetteville Republican’s colleague, state Representative Jana Della Rosa of Rogers said it was the wrong thing to do.
“If the rates were going to go through the roof why are not we hearing from insurance companies? I guarantee you we’d be hearing from them if the rates were going to go through the roof,” said Della Rosa.
She continued, “This is, in my opinion, wrong capping it at 450 weeks. That means a 20 year old person that gets permanently disabled is only going to get covered for 450 weeks and they’re on the their own for the rest of their life.”
Representative Douglas House of North Little Rock was among the Republicans breaking rank. He helped orchestrate the end of the state’s Death and Permanent Total Disability Fund last year. But House said limiting benefits to 450 weeks, to further assist business interests, was not part of the deal.
“If you’re totally and permanently disabled or killed you get this much money and that’s it? That was not the deal that the insurance companies, the chamber of commerce and all the people made. The idea is to pay the medical bills and a certain stipend per month for the rest of that person’s life if that’s the case. That’s the way the deal was worked out.”
Representative Payton disputed that account, “It was definitely represented to me during the  special session as an individual who they were lobbying for my vote that we would be back here in the regular session.”
He and other supporters argued many workers could receive assistance instead through federal benefits programs like Social Security Insurance. Opponents said that would be particularly hard on young workers injured before paying much into the benefit program.
The legislation is backed by the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce and opposed by labor groups like the AFL-CIO. The bill now heads to the Senate. It took two tries to get through the House.