Folwell tackled sticky wicket of Workers Comp. reform as state legislator

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Dale Folwell

Dale Folwell

Editor’s Note: An interview last week with Dale Folwell, Assistant Secretary for the N.C. Department of Commerce, examined his recommended reforms to the state’s Unemployment Insurance program. This week, reporter John Woodard looks at Folwell’s accomplishments as a state legislator.

RALEIGH — Prior to being selected by Gov. McCrory, to head the unemployment compensation insurance program, Dale Folwell served as Speaker Pro Tem of the North Carolina House of Representatives. In the legislative year 2011 – 12, Rep. Folwell introduced 11 bills, eight of which were signed by Gov. Perdue and enacted into law.

One of those was HB709, designed to reform a portion of the workers compensation program dealing with Temporary Total Disability payments to injured workers. Under the old provisions, temporary came to mean something far more than what everyone understands that word to mean.

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Effectively, TTD allowed injured workers to receive workers comp benefits, for the rest of their lives. And, their attorneys, received every fourth benefits payment for the rest of their lives as well. Clearly, if North Carolina was going to improve economic performance and attract new businesses, this was an issue that needed to be addressed.

There were two incredibly controversial bills in the legislature during the 2011 Session. One was the marriage amendment and the other was the workers compensation reforms. According to Rep. Folwell, the workers comp bill was 10 times more volatile than the marriage amendment.

On the day that hearings were to be held in the House Committee Room, six to eight busloads of people arrived to pack the room.

Folwell said if people were not hurt or injured on the job, there would be no need for workers comp insurance at all. But, workers comp is there for the benefit of the injured worker and it has to be made solvent for the benefit of the recipients. He told those in attendance that the current legislation being considered did not affect anyone that was injured prior to that day. He immediately sensed that the temperature in the room decreased by 25 percent!. No one had ever told these recipients that the legislation only applied to future, not current claimants.

The principal effect of this legislation was limiting compensation benefits for TTD to five years, or 60 months. In the process, the legislation improved communication between the doctor, the employer and the claimant.

In one case, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co had to produce 3000 extra tires every day in their Fayetteville plant, which was 10 percent of total production, just to pay for workers comp, under the old system. And that was for just one plant!

When Rep. Folwell left office to assume the post as Assistant Secretary of Commerce, he received a letter from Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Akron, Ohio, thanking him for shepherding the work comp bill through the legislature. The letter said that Goodyear had a sister plant in Tennessee that was identical to the Fayetteville plant, and that they had decided that they needed to close one or the other. But because of the efforts of Rep. Folwell, they had decided to close the plant in Tennessee.

That decision was made solely on the progress of reforming workers compensation benefits in North Carolina.

In addition to the foregoing, the reform bill reduced fraud – stopping ‘doctor shopping’ and improving vocational rehab. For example, someone who would have a hand injury on the line might still be able to work in the office doing something that did not cause him greater injury but allowed him to be productive.

Folwell has proven himself to be an effective leader of our state. He has a Masters Degre in Accounting from UNC-Greensboro and is a former VP of Deutsche Bank/ Alex Brown before being elected.

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