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Iowa House passes workers' compensation bill

Rep. Gary Carlson, R - Muscatine, discusses the workers' compensation bill on the House floor. (Photo: Steffi Lee)

The Iowa House has passed a bill to make many changes to the state's workers' compensation laws.

House File 518 passed 55-38 in the Republican-controlled chamber, with seven lawmakers either absent or not voting. Rep. Rob Taylor, from West Des Moines, was the only Republican present to vote against the bill.

Supporters say the bill would help even out a system they believe is currently unbalanced. Rep. Gary Carlson, R - Muscatine, was the floor manager of the bill.

"We have heard consistent reports from many employers who have seen consistent increases in their workers' compensation rights," Carlson said.

The bill includes a provision where employers could deny compensation to a worker injured on the job if they test positive for alcohol or a drug. Workers could attempt to overcome that presumption, but union members say it's a burdensome change.

But GOP lawmakers did scale back what was in the original version -- Rep. Carlson said he listened to concerns that came into lawmakers. Among several of the changes to the original bill include allowing anyone 67 and older to keep their benefits and anyone who suffers a shoulder injury could see if they qualify for a vocational rehabilitation program through a community college to get training for another job. The employer would be required to pay for the costs for up to $15,000 and request status reports each semester.

"I think there's been some abuse in the system of the workers' compensation in the state," Rep. Peter Cownie, R - West Des Moines, said.

But Democrats have argued from the start the bill favors employers instead of employees. State Rep. Tim Kacena, D - Sioux City, said backers of the bill are putting politics over policies.

"My brother in law has been without a paycheck for over two years now," Kacena said. "He's been fighting workers' comp. He's disabled -- he can hardly get out of bed. I think the reason for that is they do want him to go basically bankrupt. He's been burning through his savings. They're trying to stay alive here. If we're going to make a change in workers' comp, should we not make it for the people that are hurting? Not the insurance companies that are delaying payments?"

GOP legislators say with the changes to the overall bill, it's evident they care about Iowa workers.

"We can all agree, that we value all employees, workers in this state," Cownie said. "They are the backbone of our economy. They are the backbone of companies. They are the backbone of the budget."

The bill now has to pass out of the Iowa Senate in order to be sent to the Governor's desk.

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