Pat McCrory of Charlotte was elected NC Governor last week, and one question as we transition to his administration is this: What will be done to the NC Workers’ Compensation Act during his tenure?
In 2011 the Republicans who took control of the state legislature (NC General Assembly) in the previous election pushed a reform bill (House Bill 709) to a vote. It originally contained several provisions that would have been very bad for injured workers. Democratic Governor Bev Perdue let it be known that she would not sign such an extreme bill into law, so the legislators worked together, along with representatives of the various “stakeholder interests” (injured workers, self-insured businesses, medical providers, and the insurance carriers) to come up with a “committee substitute” bill that all the stakeholders could live with. It passed the Assembly with bipartisan support and Governor Perdue signed it into law, with most of the new law taking effect on June 24, 2011.
Fast forward a year, to June 2012, and candidate McCrory stood up in front of a political rally filled with business managers in Asheville and declared that we need “more workers’ compensation reform.” As he did he held up the stand-alone NC General Statutes book that most work comp lawyers use, a paperback that contains the Work Comp Act, pages and pages of casenotes and annotations, and other relevant or collateral statutes, such as the contempt statutes and the Workers’ Comp Rules of the Industrial Commission. In his other hand he held up the Tennessee workers’ comp statute book, which contains far less material and is therefore noticably thinner. McCrory alluded to the relative thickness of these two law books as a reason for the need for further reform in NC. Huh? Does the size of the law book dictate the need to modify the law?
I have a copy of the Tennessee book in my law office. It uses a smaller font than the NC book, and therefore has more printing on each page. It also contains none of the additional or collateral information contained in the NC book. The actual Act in Tennessee has a total of 134 sections (separate statutes) in the law. The NC Act has about 100 sections dealing with claims, and then another 24 sections dealing with self-insurance issues. So it appears to me that in spite of the thickness of the books, we already have less law enacted by our legislature on the subject than Tennessee! Not that the quantity of law enacted is a reasonable way to compare the two Acts, anyway, but McCrory implied that the thickness of the books was significant. It is not.
If the more radical elements of our legislature want to reform Workers’ Comp again this session, even though we had a big reform in 2011, then it is an open question as to whether Governor McCrory will rein them in very much. His recently announced transition team did not seem to include many moderates, even though as Mayor of Charlotte he was quite moderate in his approach to policymaking. If he does not moderate the legislators’ impulse to give the big insurance companies whatever they want, then all those good working people of NC who voted for McCrory last week may get a very nasty surprise if they get hurt at work after the long session of the legislature (in 2013) revamps our Workers’ Compensation Act.