SD advisory panel should have been allowed to finish reviewing worker-compensation proposal

Capitol News Bureau
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PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A Watertown teacher’s worker-compensation case that hasn’t been resolved after four years found its way Monday to the state Capitol. But the House Commerce and Energy Committee decided the legislation that was connected to her situation should have been fully presented first to a worker-comp review panel at the state Department of Labor and Regulation.

Justin Pieper said his wife, Michelle, had been struck repeatedly by a student, including on one occasion with the leg of a chair, and that she had almost died from the injuries. He told the committee that her worker-comp claim had become “viciously adversarial” and added, “The methods used are systematic and not confined to my wife.”

The Associated School Boards of South Dakota and the South Dakota Municipal League were targets of the legislation that Republican Representative Nancy York of Watertown brought for the Piepers.

HB 1242 would have affected providers of medical services or health benefits to an employee under certain case management plans, by prohibiting correspondence to the issuer of the policy or the employer unless the correspondence was sent at the same time to the employee. The legislation also would have prohibited the provider of medical or health care services under certain case-management plans from misrepresenting the person’s identity, credentials or duties.

“This bill is strictly about transparency,” York told the committee.

Mike Shaw, a Pierre attorney representing American Property Casualty Insurance Association, said state government has a special panel that reviews worker-comp proposals. He warned that York’s bill “will tip the balance greatly and in unfair fashion to the worker.”

Another opponent, David Owen from the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the legislation should have gone through the department’s system first. Yvonne Taylor from the South Dakota Municipal League said, “This (worker-comp coverage) is one of the services we offer to our members and this (legislation) would be detrimental to our cities and towns.” Myron Rau, representing Dakota Truck Underwriters and First Dakota Indemnity Company, said the additional costs of complying would have to be passed along to customers.

Republican Representative David Anderson of Hudson said he’s been in the insurance business since the 1980s. “This is really an awkward situation for us as a committee,” Anderson said. “I have nothing but heartache for what that family is going through, but we have not heard the other side of the case.”

The Associated School Boards’ worker-comp service didn’t appear at the hearing. Neither did anyone from the state department.

Republican Representative Mark Willadsen of Sioux Falls, who’s also been in the insurance business since the 1980s, called for York’s bill to be killed. The committee did a few minutes later, 7-5.

“My heart goes out to you,” Willadsen told Pieper. “This is not how the system is supposed to work.” But, Willadsen continued, the proposal should have gone through the review system because it’s designed to handle complicated issues.

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