Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he doesn’t see a crisis in the state’s workers comp program and sees no demand in his caucus to impose a fee schedule for the medical care injured employees receive.
Vos, R-Rochester, said he has heard good arguments from both sides of the issue. But he noted workers comp premiums dropped for the second straight year, which the Department of Workforce Development says will save businesses $170 million. He said that helped raise questions for him on whether a fee schedule was needed. Vos also said he’s not hearing from businesses in his district suggesting changes to the program.
“If there’s not a crisis, the groups should find a consensus and come to us with a solution, not expect that we’re going to try to do one through the process we utilize,” Vos told WisPolitics.com in an interview.
Vos’ comments are a second blow this week for those pushing legislation that includes the fee schedule. The Senate’s Labor Committee on Tuesday formally introduced the bill, which was written by an advisory council. But Chair Steve Nass won’t vote it out of committee if it includes a fee schedule, a spokesman for the Whitewater Republican said.
The bill has pitted Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce against various health care groups, such as the Medical Society and Wisconsin Hospital Association. Similar proposals to add a fee schedule have failed to advance the last couple legislative sessions. WMC and business groups argue the cost of procedures covered by the workers comp program are among the highest in the country; the medical groups counter those injured on the job return to work quicker and there is fewer lawsuits in Wisconsin cases than other states.
Mark Grapentine, senior vice president for the Wisconsin Medical Society, said the premium reduction in October sent a message the current system is working well.
“Clearly the reasoning behind the need for a fee schedule doesn’t seem to be taking root anywhere,” Grapentine said. “A lot of the facts on the ground point to a system that works very well and is held up as a national model.”
WMC’s Chris Reader said the group will continue to advocate for the fee schedule this legislative session, adding health care costs are a concern for employers.
“It would be a huge disappointment to employers if lawmakers refuse to address the issue again in 2018,” he said. “One thing is for certain: ignoring the issue does not make it go away. Private and public employers alike will continue calling for a medical fee schedule until Wisconsin joins almost every other state and enacts the common sense reform.”
Traditionally, the bill written by the Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council is not amended after being hashed out by representatives of labor and management. Vos said he’s not a fan of the process and would be open to the other provisions in the bill besides the fee schedule.
Vos in the interview signaled no significant developments on other high-profile bills.
Among them: the dark store bill, which he has concerns about, and Gov. Scott Walker’s call to boost sparsity aid, which he said won’t pass his chamber this session.
Vos said last month the Assembly would likely be in over three weeks between January and February to finish its legislative work this session. He said in today’s interview a fourth week could be added.
See the November interview:
Vos also said he is open to investigating past actions by employees of the old GAB but doesn’t want a “witch hunt.”
Vos said he’s more concerned about ensuring some activity outlined in a report AG Brad Schimel released two weeks ago never happens again.
Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, told DOJ he wants the agency to re-open its probe into leaked documents from the John Doe probes that included aides to Scott Walker from his days as Milwaukee County exec and allegations his guv campaign coordinated with conservative groups. Fitzgerald then wants the scope expanded to look at all activities by the GAB staff during the John Doe investigations, particularly in the years surrounding the recall elections in 2011 and 2012.
Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, wrote in a letter to AG Brad Schimel he plans to convene Senate Org to seek authorization for DOJ to proceed. Fitzgerald’s office today said the committee will vote on a move to authorize the agency to investigate matters surrounding the three overlapping John Doe cases by paper ballot tomorrow.
Fitzgerald and Vos last week called on Ethics Commission Administrator Brian Bell and Elections Commission Administrator Mike Haas to resign. And Fitzgerald has said he would bring their nominations to the Senate next month if they don’t quit. He said they would “never” get enough votes for confirmation.
State Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, has additionally called for Nathan Judnic and David Buerger, attorneys for the Elections and Ethics commissions respectively, to resign.
Vos said he’d like to see them go as well, but they are civil service and he can’t “wave a magic wand” to make those changes.
He also said he’s not concerned about the commissions finding replacements for Bell and Haas with a statewide election looming less than a year from now.
“If the goal is to try to make sure that we have a bow on it, that we know what happened, how it happened to ensure that it never occurs again, I think that’s worthwhile endeavor to protect people’s liberties,” Vos said. “But it’s not going to be a witch hunt.”
Looking to next year’s elections, Vos warned against underestimating Assembly Republicans, even though they have their largest majority in the chamber since the 1950s and could be facing strong headwinds in 2018.
CNN released a poll today that found Dems with an 18-point advantage when voters were asked which party they were most likely to support in next year’s midterms.
Vos said his polling has Republicans up on the generic ballot in rural and swing seats, as well as suburban areas.
He acknowledged a wave could hit Wisconsin next year. But he said Republicans picked up seats in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.
“I am confident that we will maintain our majority. But of course a year in politics is a lifetime,” Vos said.
Listen to the interview: