Jason Schultz

The issues facing the Iowa Legislature aren’t getting easier. Difficult decisions are being made in order to benefit the future of Iowa and those who live here. The next issue coming to the front is SF 435, a needed reform to Iowa’s Worker’s Compensation laws.

The purpose of the law is to provide compensation for lost wages and medical expenses to workers hurt while on the job. The employer agrees to strict liability for injuries in the workplace, regardless of who is at fault, in exchange for the worker giving up his right to sue the employer for negligence. This system saves time and money that would otherwise be spent fighting in court to determine fault for the injury.

Iowa’s original law dealing with how workers are compensated after being injured on the job was enacted in 1913. For decades the law worked and legal decisions were in line with the intent of the legislature. As recently as 2006 Iowa’s worker’s compensation insurance rates were ranked 5th lowest in the nation. Court opinions and administrative interpretations have changed our system for the worse and have moved away from the original intent of the legislation. Businesses in Iowa are now paying the 24th highest rates. We went from being one of the states with the lowest premiums to the middle of the pack. This is money that could go to new equipment, more employees, or higher wages.

Over the last several years, decisions by administrative law judges and courts and even our state Supreme Court have been inconsistent, introducing uncertainty into a system that has served workers and businesses well for a century. This has opened the door to fraud and abuse of the system. It is time to move our workers’ compensation law back to an even playing field, one that gives employees good benefits while providing employers with fairness and predictability. This bill sets the rules for disputes encountered over the years in legal challenges. Examples include:

• Requiring employees to be injured in Iowa in order to benefit from Iowa’s Workers’ Compensation.

• Allows employers to use overpayments as credits for future payments.

• Prevent employees from receiving unemployment benefits and permanent total disability payments.

• Requires an employer to begin permanent partial disability payments as soon as a doctor indicates the employee is at maximum medical improvement. This removes the old ambiguous standard which allowed an employee to collect temporary and permanent disability benefits at the same time.

I have heard concerns of redefinition of shoulder injuries and maximum age to receive benefits. Bill sponsors are taking input from employee organizations, business interests, and trial lawyers. Changes are still being considered in this area, but I felt it important to report what I have learned about a topic that impacts so many western Iowans who have contacted me with concerns.

This issue is another piece of the plan to level the playing field between public and private sectors, employers and employees, taxpayers and their government. Next week I will report on the Senate plan to equalize rural and urban school funding.

It is an honor to serve west central Iowa as your Senator. I have received over three thousand emails over the last few weeks and still work to catch up. New emails are read first to try to address immediate issues, so you can email Jason.schultz@legis.iowa.gov if you have questions or comments.