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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wisconsin and Workers' Comp "Reform"

Guest Blog by Thomas M. Domer  

Headlines screaming for “Workers’ Comp Reform” are blaring in many states (CA,FL, NY, OH, NC, and most recently IL). In Illinois, the state’s much-criticized system is under fire and legislation to totally dismantle the system is proposed. Wisconsin has thus far managed to dodge partisan efforts to scrap the system due in large part to the stabilizing effect of the Wisconsin Workers’ Comp Advisory Council. The Wisconsin Worker's Compensation Advisory Council was created in 1975 to advise the Department and legislature on policy matters concerning the development and administration of the workers' compensation law. The Council aims to maintain the overall stability of the workers' compensation system without regard to partisan changes in the legislative or executive branches of government. The Council provides a vehicle for labor and management representatives to play a direct role in recommending changes in the workers' compensation law to the legislature.

The council, composed of five labor, five management and three non-voting insurance members appointed by the secretary of the Department of Workforce Development and chaired by a department employee, meets regularly at different sites around Wisconsin. It occasionally assigns special topics to study committees on such issues as medical costs, permanent total disability rates and attorney's fees. The medical committee assigned in the mid-1990's to report on minimum permanency percentages for surgical procedures, for example, issued its findings which resulted in the schedule contained in the Administrative Code.

The Council obtains input from various workers' compensation constituents including interested members of the legal, medical, labor, management, insurance and employer communities. Public hearings on proposed changes are held, followed by Advisory Council deliberations. The Council has always produced an “agreed upon bill” which results in annual changes in benefit rates and substantive law. The bill proceeds to the Labor Committees in the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate where, after passage, the Governor signs the bill into law. (Republican Governor Scott Walker’s recent attempt to eviscerate public sector bargaining, which prompted the infamous flight to Illinois of the “Wisconsin 14” Democratic Senators, has had a “spillover” affect even on the Council. Labor members, in response to the Governor’s union-busting efforts, have boycotted the last 2 Council meetings).

Thomas M. Domer practices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin ( He has authored and edited several publications including the legal treatise Wisconsin Workers' Compensation Law (West) and he is the Editor of the national publication, Workers' First Watch. Tom is past chair of the Workers' Compensation Section of the American Association for Justice. He is a charter Fellow in the College of Workers' Compensation Lawyers. He co-authors the nationally recognized Wisconsin Workers' Compensation Experts Blog.