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WORKFORCE SAFETY: Bill helps workers . . . but only as it's written

BISMARCK - Workers compensation claimants will benefit from a bill that corrects parts of current state law that seem unfair, its sponsor says - but only if it is left alone.

BISMARCK - Workers compensation claimants will benefit from a bill that corrects parts of current state law that seem unfair, its sponsor says - but only if it is left alone.

"Get your own bill" was essentially the warning from Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, at the conclusion of Wednesday's hearing on House Bill 1038.

Officials at Workforce Safety and Insurance support the bill, which they helped write.

It will raise an allowance for specially equipped motor vehicles used by the "catastrophically injured" from $50,000 to $100,000. It will increase payments to 41 injured workers caught in a wrinkle of law that cut their benefits when they reached retirement age. Families of workers who died of complications from long-ago injuries will get a death benefit. It will let surviving spouses and dependent children of killed workers use a low-interest student loan fund. And catastrophically injured workers will get inflationary increases in benefits sooner.

Injured workers testifying Wednesday included Tim Effertz of Minot, who suffered a spinal cord injury in 1962. He said a section of the bill barring workers from appealing is unfair.

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Recognizing legislators and advocates for injured workers may want to amend that section or others, Keiser noted new bills can still be introduced. Put the ideas into new bills, he pleaded, "but don't screw this one up."

Keiser headed the Workers Compensation Review Committee that heard from injured workers during 2005-06. Formed by the 2005 Legislature, its job is to hear from injured workers who've exhausted all appeals with WSI and the courts but remain dissatisfied with their cases' outcomes.

The committee doesn't reverse WSI findings or court decisions, but uses information about cases to suggest law changes.

House Majority Leader Rick Berg said Wednesday that the review committee and its HB 1038 stem from a series of articles critical of WSI in The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in late 2004.

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