Worker's compensation could face changes - - Jackson, MS

Worker's compensation could face changes

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JACKSON, MS (Mississippi News Now) -

They may be two separate bills but they're aiming for the same result, changes to the state's worker's compensation law. However, not everyone is giving their blessing.  

"I think it's an atrocity that this legislature has introduced bills basically to erode workers rights," said Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance Executive Director Bill Chandler.

Protestors put their opposition to both bills on display at the state capitol. Parts of the bills seek to revise the definition of 'injury' and delete a provision that if a worker is found dead, it's presumed the death was in the course of employment.

The bill would also require the worker to carry the burden of proof and medical documentation for injuries related to work.  

"These bills are some of the worst that we've ever seen," said Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights Executive Director Jaribu Hill.

Hill says the bills are an attempt to gut an already weak protection for workers in the state.  

"If a worker puts his or her trust in that system, that system should spread coverage over those workers and what we're seeing instead of spreading coverage is we're seeing coverage being taken away," said Hill.

The author of the House version,  Representative Mark Formby says the bills are simply a way to return fairness to the system where over time the courts have skewed favor to the worker.  

"We're not trying to create unfairness anywhere. We're just trying to bring it back to a level playing field so that each case can be reviewed and not have a court precedent to skew it in one direction or another," said Formby, a republican from Picayune.

Formby's bill died on the House floor Wednesday, but the Senate version by Senator Will Longwitz passed the Senate. The bills do raise maximum payouts for death expenses and disfigurement cases, but those in opposition say it's a mask on legislation that will do more harm than good. 

"These bills hurt everyone. Now, they hurt workers the most. I want to make sure that's clear, but they serve no one," said Hill.

"People who are screaming the loudest are the people who are benefiting from the fact that it has been skewed in their direction, but the fact they're screaming so loud may be an indication that we do need to bring it back into balance," said Formby.

The bills also seek to implement a stronger drug and alcohol testing policy when workers are hurt on the job. Supporters say if folks are working under the influence, they deserve to risk their benefits.

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