A controversial bill to limit benefits for injured Iowa workers won final legislative approval last night, passing the Iowa Senate on a partisan vote of 29 to 21.
Backers say the current system has become biased against employers.
Critics say the bill will reduce employers’ liability to provide benefits to workers injured on the job.
Officials estimate that 20,000 Iowa workers are injured each year.
“Nothing in this legislation will do anything to make Iowa workplaces safer,” said Sen. Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines). “We simply cut benefits after you're already hurt.”
Critics complain the bill will limit claims if an injured employee returns to work but then is fired, and workers will be less likely to seek independent medical exams.
The bill will cap attorney fees as well as limit benefits based on when a worker reports an injury.
Employers also would be allowed to deny benefits if an injured worker tests positive for alcohol or drugs.
Backers say under current law, injured workers are double-dipping, including collecting unemployment and disability payments at the same time.
“I don't think you should be able to collect twice on the same injury,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Michael Breitbach (R-Strawberry Point). “I don't think you should get permanent and partial disability at the same time.”
State officials say they’re seeing a big jump in claims as the bill has been under discussion.
“I think it should scare us the number of claims that attorneys have filed in the last month because they’re afraid we might change the law,” Breitbach said. “They’re trying to beat it.”
The bill now goes to Governor Branstad who is expected to sign it.
Earlier this year, Branstad said the state’s workers compensation system has become more of a long-term disability program rather than temporary help for injured workers.
The bill includes fewer restrictions on benefits than Republicans originally proposed.
"It makes a very dangerous bill better,” Boulton said. “It does not solve all the problems.”