State Rep. Bill Werkheiser (R-Glennville), chair of the House Industry & Labor Committee, began the challenge of “closing a workers’ compensation hole” during the 2021 legislative session. Although the bill didn’t make it out of the last session, he says he’ll continue to work on it this summer—aiming for passage in 2022.

House Bill 397 would close a loophole in Georgia law that allows employees to not be compensated when they are injured while working.

The bi-partisan bill was introduced last February. Co-signers include Representatives Tom Kirby (R-Loganville), Dewey McLain (D-Lawrenceville) and Pedro “Pete” Marin (D-Duluth). Immediately upon filing the bill, Werkheiser says he began working with area experts to improve the legislation. HB 397 was reviewed by the House Industry & Labor Committee during the past legislative session, which resulted in the creation of an ad hoc committee to further examine the bill. HB 397 is eligible for consideration during the 2022 legislative session.

“Unfortunately, there will always be bad players and worker compensation cases will keep ending up in the court system, but we can help fix this problem, and we will,” said Werkheiser. “Since I first introduced House Bill 397 this past session, it drew the attention of those that I needed input from. Sometimes filing legislation is like bird hunting with a dog. You know something is out there, but you need to flush them out so that you can see them. We needed to get all of the parties in the same room to ensure that workers are fairly compensated for work-related injuries.”

According to the current version of the bill, professional employer organizations (PEOs) and their co-employer clients would be eligible for exclusive remedy under Georgia code, and the responsibility to obtain workers’ compensation coverage must be agreed to in writing and specifically allocated to the co-employer client or the PEO. A co-employer client would be responsible for injury compensation claims with respect to employees not covered by an agreement with the PEO.

Among those appointed to the committee: Mark Woodall, Associated General Contractors of Georgia; John Barbour, Independent Insurance Agents of Georgia; David Pratt, The Southern Group; Robert Bourne, Georgia Workers’ Compensation and Georgia Trial Lawyers Association; Bobby Potter, Advisory Council to Georgia State Board of Workers Compensation; Perry Sartain, Georgia Injured Workers’ Association; and Charlie Flemming, Georgia American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.

Werkheiser said he plans to hold an ad hoc committee meeting on the bill this July.

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