MONTPELIER -- Rather than risk workers' compensation reforms they strongly opposed, House Republicans on Saturday chose to accept a different set of legislative proposals they merely disliked.
The bargain stuck, allowing Vermont's omnibus economic development bill to pass both chambers just hours before the Legislature adjourned Saturday.
Workers' compensation became a battleground when related provisions were tacked onto the single piece of legislation carrying most of lawmakers' economic development initiatives for the session.
The House and Senate differed greatly in their approaches to workers' compensation laws: representatives had passed an incremental increase to the number of days notice injured workers get before their benefits are discontinued. Senators lengthened that notice period considerably, including offering additional time for appeal.
The longer the notice, the more days businesses have to pay workers' compensation. Lengthening the period therefore costs more for employers. Much of the business community strongly opposed the changes.
But senators felt strongly that injured workers needed more notice before being cut off, and more opportunity to appeal the discontinuance of their benefits.
Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Bennington, said lawmakers and stakeholders from the labor and business communities returned to the negotiating table when it looked like the language in S.220 might block the entire bill.
Each side made additional concessions. Discontinuance notice landed at seven days, very similar to the notice period currently in place. In case of a dispute, workers can petition the Department of Labor to receive an additional seven days of benefits.
New language also was included regarding workplace accidents involving a third party - for example, if a delivery driver on duty is struck by another vehicle. Fraud provisions and the maximum distance an injured worker may have to travel for medical examinations also were updated.