The amount of money Utah employers pay for workers' compensation insurance premiums is among the lowest in the United States, but the amount could be lower, according to Kenneth Y. Knight, vice chairman of Sinclair Oil and chairman of the Salt Lake Area Chamber of Commerce's board of governors.

Knight told fellow board members workers' compensation insurance premiums are a major issue in Utah because economic developers want to keep Utah an attractive place to do business.As a result, the board formed the Workers' Compensation Task Force and although some language still needs to be written, eight bills will be sent to the Legislature for consideration.

Knight said the task force is a coalition of the chamber, the Utah Manufacturers Association, medical providers and insurance carriers and in order to keep the group together some compromises have been made. He said there is a good chance the coalition will stay together and support the bills after they are finally written.

In 1991-93, workers' compensation premiums increased 48 percent, but in 1994 they decreased 8.2 percent. That resulted in a $16 million decrease in premiums Utah businesses had to pay, but with work another $65 million in premiums could be saved, he said.

David Bird, chairman of the chamber's Legislative Action Committee, said one of the bills would define permanent total disability and require periodic re-evaluation of that disability to determine if they should continue in that classification.

Another bill would define independent contractor and organize a registry for independent contractors who don't want to have workers' compensation insurance, another would provide incentives for safety programs and educating workers about safety and another would lower the benefits an injured worker can receive if the injury is caused by alcohol or controlled substance consumption.

Knight said an attempt to keep workers' compensation premiums under control "is the strongest economic message we can send" that Utah is a good place to do business. "Even though some of the bills don't go as far as we would like, if we can accomplished what is being proposed it will be a major step," Knight said.

High workers' compensation premiums have pushed numerous businesses from California, board members noted. Some fear Utah could face the same fate.