The Supreme Court of Oklahoma has rejected a constitutional challenge to the recently passed reform of the the state's workers compensation insurance program, according to a report in the Tulsa World (see: "Oklahoma Supreme Court upholds new workers' compensation law," by Randy Ellis).
"The new law phases out the state's judicial workers' compensation system and replaces it with an administrative system which will go into effect in February of 2014," reports the World. "The new law also authorizes employers to opt out of the state system as long as they provide equivalent benefits to injured workers." But opponents of the new law did not focus on those provisions, choosing instead to contest the law over a technical issue, arguing that the law violated a provision in the Oklahoma constitution that prohibits any legislation from addressing more than one issue at a time. The majority of justices rejected that argument out of hand, writing: "As all sections of the new law are interrelated and refer to a single subject, workers' compensation or the manner in which employees may ensure protection against work-related injuries, we disagree with the constitutional challenge to the Administrative Act on grounds of logrolling."
However, some justices expressed reservations over provisions in the law itself — in particular, over the details of the new "opt out" opportunity for employers. "Right out of the gate, claimants whose employers have opted out receive a lower level of due process protection than claimants whose employers chose not to, and that decision is not made by the claimant, but by the employer," wrote Justice Douglas Combs in a partial dissent from the majority opinion.
Vice-Chief Justice John F. Reif voiced a similar argument: "A fundamental element of due process is a fair and impartial trial," he wrote. "Under the opt out system, the employer and any 'appeals' committee chosen by the employer cannot satisfy the impartiality requirement of due process, because the employer has a direct pecuniary interest in the decision of a claim."