August 1, 2002 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular News Workers’ Comp Section monitors rates and benefits study Workers’ Comp Section monitors rates and benefits study Senior Editor A busy legislative session tracking a variety of bills has transformed into continued activity for the Bar’s Workers’ Compensation Section as it monitors a new gubernatorial commission studying rates and benefits.The section had been monitoring several bills during the session, some of which would have cut injured workers’ benefits and the fees paid to lawyers. That could have made it hard for some to obtain attorneys. Instead, after major players were unable to reach an agreement, lawmakers passed a much milder bill, intended to improve reporting, speed settlements, and end some of the fraud associated with construction companies avoiding paying workers’ comp premiums.But any thoughts the section could relax over the summer before preparing for the 2003 legislative session ended May 22 when Gov. Jeb Bush created by executive order the Governor’s Commission on Workers’ Compensation Reform. The commission has 13 members, each appointed by Bush who also chose the chair.Rafael Gonzalez, immediate past Workers’ Compensation Section chair and who is monitoring legislative issues for the section, said this commission is far different from another one Bush appointed a couple of years ago.“It’s almost unprecedented. This group does not contain the representative of any insurance company,” he said, noting the first panel had members mostly from large employers and insurance companies. “It is employers — some of them very large, some of them small, some of them contractors. It includes a judge of compensation claims, a couple representatives of state government, and it includes a couple of representatives of worker advocacy groups.” There are also two legislators.Gonzalez, who has followed workers’ compensation legislative battles for years, said it’s the first time he’s seen a workers’ comp judge included on such a panel. “That brings a nice new perspective on why things happen the way they do, legally,” he said.Of the commission’s first meeting, Gonzalez said, “I was super impressed. I think all of them had a good understanding of where workers’ comp is at today. The makeup of the commission is good in the sense it isn’t tilted one way or the other.”He has also asked the commission for time to present the section’s concerns at one of the next two upcoming meetings. The section has worries about attorneys’ fees, when attorneys get involved in cases, and the definition of permanent total disability — a subject that raised concerns in the legislature last year.Gonzalez noted that Gov. Bush cited some statistics in his order creating the commission, but that the commission at its first meeting seemed to get different data. “Maybe getting consistent statistics will be one of their homework assignments,” he said.According to the governor’s order, the panel is charged with:• Determining the availability and affordability of workers’ comp insurance in Florida compared to other states.• Finding the impediments to quick resolution of claims and statutory ways to speed those settlements.• Exploring what factors are driving up the cost of insurance and what laws can be passed to reduce the cost.• Ascertaining the adequacy of compensation for injured workers and any statutory changes needed to ensure that those workers are equitably compensated.• Reviewing the findings of a three-member panel created by the legislature to look at the availability and accessibility of medical treatment for injured workers, and the adequacy of the medical fee schedule.The resolution requires the commission to report to the governor, Senate president, and speaker of the House by January 31, 2003, and to go out of existence no later than July 1, 2003.Bush’s order notes that Florida has among the highest workers’ compensation rates in the country, but also among the lowest benefits for injured workers. It also referred to studies showing the state’s system fails to perform as well as those in other states.Named to the commission by Bush were:• Pete Carpenter, chair, of Jacksonville, former chief operating officer, CSX Transportation, Inc.• Claude Revels of Keystone Heights, corporate safety director, JM Family Enterprises, Inc.• Kathleen Davies of Miami, senior director of safety and risk management, Burger King Corporation.• Carlos Cantero, of Orlando, owner, C.D.S. Sitework and Trucking, Inc.• Derrick Wallace, of Orlando, president and chief executive officer of Construct Two; president of the Economic Development Commission in Orlando; Board of Directors, Florida Chamber of Commerce.• Judge Maria Ortiz of Miami, judge of compensation claims, District K.• Hayden Dempsey of Tallahassee, Executive Office of the Governor.• Kevin McCarty of Tallahassee, Department of Insurance.• Dwayne Sealey of Tallahassee, secretary-treasurer, Florida AFL-CIO.• Stuart Colling of Maitland, president of Florida Workers Advocates.• Michael Ozegovich of Key Largo, community services director; South Florida Carpenters Regional Council.• State Sen. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge, chair of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.• Rep. Leslie Waters, R-Largo, chair of the House Insurance Committee.The commission next meets August 20 at the Orlando World Marriott during the Workers’ Compensation Institute. Following meetings are tentatively planned for September 24, October 22, November 19, and December 10, although no locations have been set.