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Judges and workers' comp

June 24, 2003

Should judges have input on pending legislation that concerns the courts? Or is their input an unwarranted breach of the separation of powers?

That's the question now facing West Virginia lawmakers and justices of the state's Supreme Court. In our view, as supervisors of the state's court system, the Supreme Court should have a voice. Lawmakers need to consult them on matters like a proposed new court to handle workers' compensation claims.

The proposal for a new court was part of a fix the Legislature recently went into a special session to enact for the workers'comp system, which is racking up deficits at a record pace. Without some changes, it would have been bankrupt by 2006, with $4 billion in unsecured claims.

Some business leaders felt - and many lawmakers agreed - that previous reform proposals had been undone by the Supreme Court - which they felt ruled too often in favor of injured workers.

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To stop that, lawmakers proposed a special court to hear appeals from injured workers. Supreme Court Justices Larry Starcher and Joseph Albright were not pleased, with Albright sending lawmakers a letter and Albright speaking against the idea at a public hearing.

Lawmakers caved in and instead of a special court, beefed up the powers of an existing appeals board. But both sides are getting ready for the next battle - the 2004 race for the seat of Justice Warren McGraw.

Gavin McCormick, Associated Press business writer, notes that factions for and against McGraw are already starting to raise money for the race.

If that happens, we hope the campaign is one of issues, instead of those horrible attack ads of the type that Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Jim Humphreys have tortured the public with.

Finding answers to the problems of the workers' compensation system will require balancing the interests of injured workers and those who must pay insurance premiums. Attempts to paint one side or the other as heartless villains will only postpone the search for a solution.

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