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Process changes threaten Wisconsin workers' compensation system.

Changes to Wisconsin's workers' compensation law was signed by the governor in February was part of a process that has been used to amend workers' compensation laws in the state. But there is potential for changes that may not proceed in as orderly or reasonable a fashion in coming years.

The process has been one where Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council, which consists of five representatives from labor and five from management who work out changes to the workers' compensation system and then present these changes to the full legislature. The legislature traditionally has accepted the Council's negotiated changes and enacted them into law.

Last year, a proposal was made that would have radically changed much of the workers' compensation law, taking the 12-year statute of limitations for when a worker could file claims down to two years. Even more damaging to many employee claims, it would have allowed the employer to determine if a claim was due to employee negligence and then reduce the benefit to the injured worker.

The legislature rejected this, but the bill's sponsor has indicated he is likely to bring it up again. He also wants to permit "opt-out" rules, like those that were recently declared unconstitutional by Oklahoma's workers' compensation commission. He claims unconvincingly that anything in Wisconsin would have to be constitutional; it is unclear what that means.

For an individual worker, much of this is above their heads. What they understand is whether their compensation after an injury helps them return to work healthy and if that cannot happen, that it allows them to maintain a reasonable standard of living.

It seems only fair that they obtain compensation if they lose the ability to earn an income because they were injured while on the job.

Source:, "Walker OKs union-approved changes to workers' comp; other changes loom," Marc Wehrs, March 20, 2016

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