Legislature(1993 - 1994)
04/07/1994 03:00 PM L&C
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CHAIRMAN HUDSON brought up CSSB 64(JUD)(efd fld) - IMMUNITY FOR SAFETY INSPECTIONS and invited the prime sponsor to present the bill. Number 480 JOSH FINK, Staff, Senator Kelly, read the following sponsor statement: "In 1988, the legislature passed a comprehensive revision of Alaska's workers' compensation laws. At that time it was considered model legislation and was built around a no fault system. Since taking effect, the new workers' compensation provisions have proven successful. "The safety inspection issue was brought to the forefront as a result of the 1989 Van Biene v. ERA Helicopters, Inc. decision our Supreme Court, which held that "workers' compensation carrier could be held liable to estates of deceased pilots for negligent performance of safety inspection if insurer actually inspected the working conditions of the employer prior to the incident. This ruling effectively ended the no fault system. "The unintended result is that carriers are unwilling to perform safety inspections and Alaskan workers are at greater risk of injury. SB 64 removes insurers, insurance service agents, self-insured employers, and trade associations from civil liability for damages resulting from the performance or failure to perform a workplace safety inspection or a safety advisory service unless the act is intentional or negligent. "SB 64 ensures workplace safety inspections will continue, that workers' compensation insurance will be available and affordable because of safety inspection, and that employees benefit from safety inspections." Number 525 DAVE HUTCHENS, Executive Director, Alaska Rural Cooperative Electric Association, testified in favor of SB 64. He explained to the committee that his organization created an insurance program which, in 1983, evolved into a reciprocal insurer which is a regulated insurance company chartered through the laws of the state. Mr.Hutchens said the Van Biene issue impacted his organization greatly in that prior to the decision, they operated an intensive safety program for their members, but cannot afford the liability now. MR. HUTCHENS noted that SB 64 would correct this problem as well as Section 2 in HB 241. Number 567 REPRESENTATIVE GREEN asked if the Van Biene decision applied only to the inspector or did it also apply to his employer as well. Number 574 MR. HUTCHENS replied that the decision affected the insurance company that had underwritten the employer. Number 580 REPRESENTATIVE MULDER asked if safety inspectors needed a minimum amount of accreditation. MR. HUTCHENS replied that he didn't think there were any requirements for safety inspectors. Number 588 REPRESENTATIVE MULDER stated that it seemed logical that if the state were to require safety inspections, then there should be some sort of minimum requirements. MR. HUTCHENS agreed. Number 600 REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE stated that he thought the last time the committee heard the two bills, the direction given was for the various interest groups to come to a compromise. He asked for an update on those talks. Number 605 REPRESENTATIVE MULDER stated that an ad hoc task force comprised of three groups, organized labor, insurance providers, and the employer groups, worked through the interim but did not come to a compromise. Number 635 REPRESENTATIVE MACKIE stated that there was obviously a problem or there wouldn't be these two bills. He questioned what would happen if the legislature did nothing. Number 640 REPRESENTATIVE MULDER replied that from a policy standpoint, he thinks it is important to have workplace safety programs but also fells the health benefit extension is good public policy. REPRESENTATIVE MULDER added that if the legislature did nothing some groups would still have workplace safety inspections and would assume the risk as they do now and others won't. TAPE 94-35, SIDE B Number 001 KEVIN SMITH, representing the Alaska Municipal League and the Joint Insurance Association, testified in favor of SB 64. He said he believes a safe workplace is good for the workers regardless of the politics involved. Number 040 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER asked if Mr. Smith was a certified safety professional and, if not, how long would it take to become one. Number 050 MR. SMITH said that he was not a certified safety professional, but noted within a year he could be. Number 060 PHIL FINKSTAD, Business Manager, Carpenters Union, testified that in 1988, a workers' compensation bill was passed and it was basically a management bill. He stated that labor supported it because it was a very lean time and they felt that by helping to lower the costs to the employers, there may be more work. He said over the last few years labor has tried to regain some of the lost ground. MR. FINKSTAD stated that almost every job site he has been on over the last twenty years has had a safety program. MR. FINKSTAD stated that the Van Biene, by itself, is only beneficial to the insurers and the other two groups want to see the bill passed. Number 125 CHAIRMAN HUDSON stated that he recognized that any solution would require the accommodation of all sides of the issue. He added that he hoped that by bringing the bills up side by side a solution could be found, but that did not appear to be happening. Number 141 REPRESENTATIVE PORTER referred to gross negligence occurring and asked if the no fault system under workers' compensation would apply. Number 144 MR FINKSTAD replied yes. Number 154 REPRESENTATIVE MULDER stated that he would go back to the parties involved one last time and try to come to a compromise. CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked Mr. Finkstad to tell Senator Kelly that this committee is committed to move the bill quickly when a solution is offered that accommodates everyone. CHAIRMAN HUDSON told the committee that he would hold both SB 64 and HB 241 over. Number 181 REPRESENTATIVE MULDER explained that HB 241 is a mirror of SB 64 except that it includes a section for health benefits for workers and their families who have been injured for an additional 12 months. He explained that this legislation was passed by the legislature and made it to the governor in 1989, but was vetoed over some technical glitches. CHAIRMAN HUDSON asked who pays for the additional insurance. REPRESENTATIVE MULDER replied that it would be the responsibility of the employer. He added that the average number of months an employee is off the job is less than two months. Number 210 CHAIRMAN HUDSON restated that he was going to hold the bills over and adjourned the meeting at 5:00 p.m.