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Tenn. spilt on workers' comp program

April 9, 2013 at 12:06 PM

NASHVILLE, April 9 (UPI) -- Labor and consumer groups in Tennessee said Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to take the workers' compensation process out of the court system has a major flaw.

Specifically, the groups are complaining about the decision to place the new workers' compensation program under the jurisdiction of the state's Department of Labor and Workforce Development, which has recently been cited for major problems in its distribution of unemployment benefits, one of its primary functions.

A recent audit showed the department failed to monitor fraud and had made $73 million in overpayments in recent years, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported Tuesday.

"We are calling on the governor to put the brakes on moving such a vital process for injured Tennessee workers into the most dysfunctional department in the state. This audit showed problems in multiple divisions of the department, not just in the Unemployment Insurance division," the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council said in a statement.

"They're talking about adding another multimillion-dollar division that's paid for by taxpayer money into a division that's already rife with mismanagement and problems," said Mary Mancini, executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action, a non-partisan consumer watchdog group.

The bill to create the new workers' compensation review program has made its way through the state Senate and is now being considered in the House.

Dave Smith, a spokesman for the governor, gave the Labor Department credit because it "self-reported the issues, and, as the release on the audit noted, is currently working to correct" its problems.

Advocates for the bill also said its connection to the troubled department would be minimal, as the workers' compensation program would hire its own law judges and other personnel, the newspaper said.

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