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New State GOP Leadership Takes Aim at Old Target

January 28, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. - Looking for ways to stimulate job growth, new GOP leadership in the North Carolina State Assembly are discussing the possibility of limiting workers' compensation benefits at the urging of some business lobbyists - a move that is raising eyebrows among business owners and workers' rights advocates.

Shaw Canele is CEO of Mountain Bizworks, a small-business development center in western North Carolina. Canele says what businesses need more is better access to loans. She cautions against eliminating protections that are safeguards for everyone.

"I'm very leery of our legislature taking any action that has the potential to penalize, financially, workers in our state."

She would prefer that lawmakers create incentives to help turn companies with a proven model of success - what she calls "durable" operations - into "legacy" businesses.

Some business leaders have pushed for artificial caps on workers' comp benefits to reduce their premiums. However, many of the injured workers would then need state and federal assistance, so costs would likely be passed on to taxpayers.

Attorney Victor Farah says he has a client, "Jimmy," who was so seriously injured in a trucking accident, he may never return to the job. ("Jimmy's" real name is withheld to protect his privacy.)

"The proposed changes - trying to take that cookie-cutter approach to people - just ignore the realities of situations like Jimmy's."

Ongoing support from workers' compensation is critical to his economic survival, "Jimmy" says.

"It would have been devastating if I had not gotten these benefits. I wouldn't have been able to pay my house payment or my vehicle payment."

Workers' comp premiums have seen a steady reduction in the Tarheel state. Employers with an average safety record pay 22 percent less now than they did 15 years ago.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC