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CRACKDOWN PROPOSED ON UNINSURED COMPANIES

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The Worker's Compensation Advisory Council wants to crack down on Utah employers who don't purchase workers' compensation insurance to cover their employees when they get injured.

A bill pre-filed with the Legislature would impose a penalty of $2,500 or three times the cost of workers' compensation insurance premiums for the period the company doesn't have the insurance, whichever is greater.A council subcommittee has been working on the bill for several months and finally won approval to submit it to the Legislature during the council's last meeting.

Originally, the bill contained language that would have made a corporate officer personally liable for the penalty imposed when a company doesn't have workers' compensation insurance if the officer repeatedly, intentionally and knowingly violates the law requiring workers' compensation coverage.

Larry Bunkall, president of the Utah Manufacturers Association, said his organization would oppose the bill if that language were included and believes the problem could be handled through Utah's fraud statutes. The council followed his lead and removed the language.

Council members want to stop the practice of companies operating without workers' compensation insurance and once they are discovered, closing that business and starting another business without purchasing insurance.

The proposed bill would allow an employer who disputes a State Industrial Commission determination that no workers' compensation insurance was in force would get a hearing before an administrative law judge

After a penalty order has been issued by the law judge, the commission may file an abstract for any uncollected penalty in district court. The abstract shall state the amount of the uncollected penalty, reasonable attorney fees, costs of collection and court costs.

Another bill pre-filed by the council deals with safety in the workplace. It would increase compensation to an injured worker 15 percent if injury is caused by the willful failure of an employer to comply with the law to provide a safe atmosphere or the employer's own safety program.

Also, an employer who conducts a print or electronic media campaign designed to promote safety in the workplace could get a tax credit of up to $200,000. The commission will have the discretion to establish reasonable rules on qualified expenditures, advertising campaign content and the credit determination process, according to the proposed bill.

It also is pushing for a provision that would prohibit workers' compensation benefits to go to injured workers when the injuries are caused by the employee's consumption of alcohol or controlled substances on the job. Deaths by these means would be an exception, the bill states.