As of the date of this posting, one vacancy has been filled.
The rumor is that the governor has begun making appointments to the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council. We only need three. It’s about time.
New Mexico needs this council as a moderating voice on workers’ compensation legislation. Anyone who understands workers’ compensation and reads the bills from the 2021 session – the bills that could have blown up the system — knows that.
The Advisory Council, by statute, has six members, three appointed from business and three from labor. By custom, the business members have been business owners and the labor members are from organized labor, though they do not have to be.
The members, therefore, come from the two interest groups that are governed by the system, rather than from any profession that makes its living from workers’ comp. That is absolutely on purpose. The statute explicitly says no member of this council can be a lawyer.
The people who wrote New Mexico’s reform law, which saved our economy in 1990, thought this council was so important that they put it at the beginning of the statute, at Paragraph 52-1-1.2, where you can’t miss it. The original members had all served on the 1990 task force that wrote the law. Their job, which they understood fully, was to keep the system from being torn apart for several years and pass that mission on to successors.
The terms of three members expired in April, four months ago.
(The April deadline was my idea, years ago when I worked for them. If the Council’s primary purpose is to advise on legislation, I suggested, terms should expire only after the legislative session.)
Appointing members is not difficult. Recommendations have been sent to the governor’s office. I’m hoping the governor will renew one member who has served at least three terms on this council and understands the law. Because workers’ compensation is hard to understand.
Workers’ comp is not like anything else, especially the conventional legal system. It’s hard to grasp until you have learned it because it is so different. It is filled with unusual compromises that actually work.
Probably the most important compromise is the no-fault principle, which is at the heart of the system. If a worker isn’t looking where he’s going and walks into a pothole, he’s covered, without argument or delay. The injured worker is usually at least partly at fault in causing his own accident. So that principle is really valuable to workers, but it is so unusual that most people (including legislators) do not understand it. It eliminates vast amounts of litigation, saving time, money and frustration.
If a lawmaker writes a bill that says the worker is only covered if the employer did something wrong (such as HB 268 this year), that rips a hole in the fabric of workers’ comp.
The Advisory Council’s primary job is to make recommendations to the legislature. Historically, the Council has written some bills and made recommendations on others. Over the years most recommendations have been unanimous, with business and labor members voting together.
The Council used to have enough credibility that its recommendations were generally followed. Legislators appreciated the guidance because most of them didn’t know enough about workers’ comp themselves. These days, most legislators have never heard of this Council, so new Council members will have to get up to speed and reestablish that credibility.
It takes some educating for anyone to understand why a strong and functional workers’ comp system is vastly superior to the possible alternatives, and why such a system is a vital contributor both to economic development and the well-being of New Mexico workers.
I’m hoping that by the time you read this, the appointments have been made and the new Council is scheduling its first meeting. I will plan to attend.
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