Friday, July 26, 2013

NC Reforms Its WCJs

If you can't reform workers' compensation into the system you want, then you reform the underlying judicial process to make sure that judges on disputed cases rule the way you want.

That's how North Carolina Republicans are going to reform that state's system by exempting the state's 20 workers' compensation judges and other top officials of the state Industrial Commission from civil service protections.

The Senate on Thursday voted 27-19 for preliminary approval of House Bill 74, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013. The House voted 76-36 for preliminary passage of the legislation.

The proposal was part of an overhaul of state regulations proposed by a House-Senate conference committee on Wednesday.

All of the eight members of the House-Senate conference committee are Republicans.

Chapter 126 of North Carolina General Statutes, the State Personnel Act, prohibits the firing of state workers with at least two years of service except for "just cause" and establishes an appeals process through the state Office of Administrative Hearings.

This law apparently inhibits workers' compensation reform because judges can't be relieved of duty unceremoniously. Failing to rule in the manner expected by politicians apparently isn't "just cause."

Leonard Jernigan, a Raleigh claimants' attorney and former chairman of the Workers' Compensation Section of the North Carolina Bar Association, told WorkCompCentral the Industrial Commission reforms are a GOP-backed attempt to give Gov. Pat McCrory, North Carolina's first Republican governor since 1993, to replace workers' compensation judges at will.

McCrory campaigned on a platform of regulatory reform.

Regardless, it is a despicable and underhanded manipulation of what is to be an indendent fact finding, legal ruling tribunal.

The Rule of Law is greatly compromised when those who are entrusted with indendence in the finding of fact and application of law are looking over their shoulders every day wondering if a particular case is going to determine the employment relationship.

There is no place in America for the judiciary, be it Superior Courts, appellate courts, or administrative courts, to be subject to the whims of a governmental leader.

There is a reason why federal judges are appointed judges for life - and that is because the triangle of United States government mandates that checks and balances be in place to curtail abuses in any one of the governmental functions.

The legislature makes the law. The executive branch leads the people, and makes policy.

And the judicial branch interprets the law and metes out reward or punishment.

They are independent for a reason - to avoid dictatorship or tyranny.

The way to reform workers' compensation in North Carolina, or any state for that matter, is through the legislature. Not by hamstringing the judiciary.

At least this proposal won't become law this legislative session.

House Regulatory Reform Committee Chairman Tim Moffitt, R-Asheville, told the House during debate on Thursday that the conferees agreed to the delay civil service exemptions to find out whether such exemptions would be allowed for state workers' salaries are set by North Carolina General Statutes.

"If we need to make changes during the short (2014) session we can," Moffitt said.

Both the House and Senate voted late Thursday to adjourn the 2013 session today and to return on May 14, 2014.

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