Speech, Tuesday, December 10, 1996

TESTIMONY BY GOVERNOR PAUL E. PATTON TO THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND LABOR

MR. CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMITTEE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO APPEAR BEFORE YOU TO SPEAK IN FAVOR OF HOUSE BILL 1, WHICH YOU ARE CONSIDERING TODAY.

THIS WAS A GOOD BILL WHEN I OFFERED IT IN THE HOUSE. THEY IMPROVED IT. I'M CONFIDENT THE SENATE WILL ALSO MAKE IT BETTER.

THIS LEGISLATIVE PROCESS IS A FRUSTRATING ANIMAL, BUT IT'S AMAZING THAT MOST OF THE TIME IT WORKS. WE HAVE THREE OR FOUR SUGGESTIONS FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION WHICH WE THINK WILL IMPROVE THE BILL AND COMMISSIONER TURNER WILL EXPLAIN THEM.

BUT LET ME URGE YOU TO BE VERY CAUTIOUS ABOUT AMENDING THIS BILL. ONE WORD CAN TURN A SILK PURSE INTO A SOW'S EAR, AND THE OPPONENTS OF THIS BILL HAVE TRIED EVERY LEGISLATIVE TACTIC KNOWN TO MAN, OR WOMAN, SENATOR ROSE, TO GUT THIS PROPOSAL.

IT'S ALREADY A GOOD BILL, ONE I CAN SUPPORT. I WANT YOUR CONSIDERED INPUT TO IMPROVE IT.

BUT I DOUBT SERIOUSLY THAT ANY AMENDMENT OFFERED BY THE WELL-KNOWN OPPONENTS OF THIS BILL ARE DESIGNED TO IMPROVE IT.

THEY'RE DESIGNED TO SINK IT. THAT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN BUT LET'S NOT SEND A MISTAKE OVER TO THE HOUSE AND THEN HAVE THEM SEND THE BILL RIGHT BACK FOR CORRECTION.

LET'S DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME. MUCH HAS BEEN SAID ABOUT THIS PROPOSAL THAT IS VERY DISTURBING TO ME.

IT'S BEEN CALLED PATTON'S WAR ON WORKERS.

IT'S BEEN CALLED A RIPPER, DESTROYING KENTUCKY'S WORKERS' COMPENSATION PROGRAM.

LABOR IS SAYING I'VE TURNED MY BACK ON THEM AND THE PEOPLE THEY REPRESENT.

NONE OF THAT IS TRUE.

THIS BILL IS INTENDED TO AND WILL PROTECT THE INJURED WORKER AND THEIR JOB. BOTH ARE IMPORTANT.

WHAT DOES THIS BILL ACTUALLY DO?

LET ME TALK FIRST ABOUT NON-COAL INDUSTRIES. THIS BILL CUTS THE COST A VERY MODEST 11%. IT DOES STOP THE INCREDIBLE COST INCREASES OF RECENT YEARS, 55% IN THE PAST FOUR YEARS ALONE, BUT HOW MUCH DOES IT CUT? 11%.

NOT QUITE WHAT I'D CALL A RIPPER BILL.

WHERE DOES THAT CUT COME FROM?

$30 MILLION A YEAR IS A SUBSIDY FOR COAL. THAT'S GONE. THE MOM & POP BUSINESS WON'T BE FINANCING THE BLACK LUNG PROGRAM IN THE FUTURE.

THE ASSESSMENT TO PAY OFF THE PAST LIABILITY OF THE SPECIAL FUND IS UNCHANGED, 9% OF THE PREMIUM. $31 MILLION OF THE SAVINGS IS UNNECESSARY MEDICAL AND LEGAL COSTS PAID BY THE EMPLOYER TO DEFEND CLAIMS AND GATHER MEDICAL EVIDENCE IN UNNECESSARY COURT PROCEEDINGS.

WORKERS WILL ALSO SAVE ABOUT $30 MILLION IN UNNECESSARY LEGAL AND MEDICAL BILLS TO GET BENEFITS THEY ARE CLEARLY ALREADY ENTITLED TO. YES, THERE WILL BE CUTS IN BENEFITS BUT I BELIEVE THOSE CUTS WILL BE TO THE PEOPLE WHO ARE TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE SYSTEM.

WE'RE TRYING TO HELP THE TRULY INJURED WORKER.

THIS PROPOSAL FULLY FUNDS THE LIABILITY OF THE SPECIAL FUND BY THE YEAR 2018. A COMMITMENT WE MADE TO OURSELVES IN 1987.

THESE CHANGES MAKE EVERY JOB IN KENTUCKY A LITTLE MORE SECURE.

THESE CHANGES MAKE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR A GOOD JOB IN THE FUTURE RIGHT HERE IN KENTUCKY FOR EVERY KENTUCKY SCHOOL STUDENT A LITTLE BIT BETTER.

THESE CHANGES MAKE THE CHANCES OF GETTING A LITTLE BETTER RAISE NEXT YEAR A LITTLE BIT BETTER FOR EVERY KENTUCKY WORKER.

AND ALL WE'RE TRYING TO DO IS REDUCE PAYMENTS TO PEOPLE WHO AREN'T HURT OR HAVE SLIGHT INJURIES SO WE CAN PAY THE SERIOUSLY INJURED WORKER MORE.

NOWHERE IS THAT BETTER ILLUSTRATED THAN IN THIS REPORT FROM THE CONSULTANT WHICH SHOWS THAT OUR PRESENT SYSTEM INCREASES THE OCCUPATIONAL DISABILITY AND, THEREFORE, THE PAYMENT FOR SOMEONE WITH A 5% MEDICAL DISABILITY BY OVER FIVE TIMES WHILE OUR PROPOSAL WOULD REDUCE IT BY ONE-FOURTH.

WHILE THE PRESENT SYSTEM INCREASES THE OCCUPATIONAL DISABILITY FOR SOMEONE WITH A 40% MEDICAL DISABILITY BY ONLY 37% WHILE OUR NEW PROGRAM INCREASES IT BY 150%.

THIS IS A WORKERS' BILL, IMPROVING PAYMENT TO TRULY INJURED WORKERS WHILE PROTECTING ALL OF OUR JOBS. I'M SORELY DISAPPOINTED AT THOSE WHO HAVE DEMAGOGUED THIS BILL IN THE NAME OF THE POOR WORKER WHILE PROTECTING THEIR OWN INTERESTS.

THIS BILL DOES NOT DEPRIVE THE WORKER OF LEGAL COUNSEL AT ANY STAGE OF THE PROCESS IF THAT'S WHAT THEY WANT TO PAY FOR.

BUT IT DOES ALLOW THE WORKER TO GET WHAT THEY'RE CLEARLY ENTITLED TO WITHOUT PAYING FOR UNNECESSARY LEGAL AND MEDICAL SERVICES WHILE STILL HAVING ACCESS TO THE COURTS WITH ADEQUATE LEGAL COUNSEL.

THIS IS A FAIR BILL, A BILL I'M PROUD TO HAVE HAD A HAND IN DRAFTING, A BILL YOU CAN BE PROUD TO SUPPORT.

NOW, LET ME TALK A LITTLE ABOUT COAL. THIS BILL WILL CUT COSTS TO COAL AN ESTIMATED 22%, A FAIRLY SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT. BUT LET ME REMIND YOU THAT HOUSE BILL 928 INCREASED THE COST TO COAL BY 89%!

WE STILL HAVE A WAY TO GO TO GET BACK WHERE WE WERE JUST TWO YEARS AGO. COAL IN THE FUTURE WILL PAY ITS OWN WAY.

THIS BILL COMPLETELY REMOVES ANY SUBSIDY FOR COAL AND MAKES SURE COAL WON'T BUILD UP ANY UNFUNDED LIABILITY FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO PAY OFF IN THE FUTURE.

SOUNDS PRETTY GOOD SO FAR, DOESN'T IT?

SO WHERE IS THE KICKER?

BLACK LUNG.

THE ABILITY TO PUT TOGETHER THIS WIN-WIN PROPOSAL IS DEPENDENT ON BEING ABLE TO CUT KENTUCKY'S $100 MILLION A YEAR BLACK LUNG PROGRAM DRAMATICALLY, 67% IN FACT.

IS THIS JUST A MATTER OF PICKING OUT A RELATIVELY FEW PEOPLE AND HAVING THEM BEAR THE BURDEN BECAUSE THEY'RE POLITICALLY POWERLESS?

QUITE TO THE CONTRARY.

THE MINERS HAVE DEMONSTRATED THEIR POLITICAL POWER BY GETTING THE REST OF LABOR TO OPPOSE A PROGRAM DESIGNED TO HELP THEM AND THEIR EMPLOYERS SHED THE SUBSIDY TO COAL, HAVE MORE PROFITABLE COMPANIES FROM WHICH TO GET BIGGER RAISES FOR THEIR MEMBERS AND BRING MORE JOBS TO KENTUCKY FOR THEIR MEMBERS.

THE MINERS HAVE GOTTEN THE REST OF LABOR TO TURN AGAINST A GOVERNOR THEY HELPED ELECT, A GOVERNOR WHO'S DEMONSTRATED HE'S WILLING TO STAND UP FOR LABOR WHEN THEY'RE RIGHT, A GOVERNOR WHO WILL IN THE FUTURE STILL BE LABOR'S FRIEND WHEN THEY NEED ONE, ALL TO HELP THE MINERS HOLD ON TO A PROGRAM WHICH HAS LONG AGO OUTLIVED ITS USEFULNESS.

NO, I WOULDN'T CALL THE MINERS THE POLITICALLY POWERLESS.

I WAS MOVED BY REPRESENTATIVE STUMBO'S ELOQUENT DESCRIPTION OF HIS GRANDFATHER'S BATTLE WITH BLACK LUNG.

IT BROUGHT BACK MEMORIES OF MY GRANDFATHER WHO DIED OF BLACK LUNG.

I CAN VISIBLY REMEMBER HIM SLEEPING, KNEELING ON THE COUCH BECAUSE HE COULDN'T BREATHE LYING IN A BED.

BLACK LUNG WAS A TERRIBLE DISEASE. AND THANK GOD WE'VE ALMOST WIPED IT OUT IN THIS COUNTRY. LIKE POLIOMYELITIS, ANOTHER SCOURGE OF MY CHILDHOOD, IT'S ALMOST GONE.

THE TIME TO QUIT PAYING FOR IT'S GONE, TOO.

IN 1969, COAL SOLD FOR $3.00 A TON, TODAY IT SELLS FOR $30. ONE OF THE MAJOR REASONS FOR THAT PRICE INCREASE IS THE 1969 COAL MINE HEALTH AND SAFETY ACT WHICH WAS SOLD AS A PROGRAM TO DRAMATICALLY IMPROVE SAFETY IN AMERICA'S COAL MINES AND WIPE OUT BLACK LUNG.

THE LAW HAS NOT COMPLETELY STOPPED ALL FATALITIES IN AMERICA'S COAL MINES BUT IT DROPPED THEM FROM 311 IN 1968 TO 47 IN 1995. A DECREASE OF 85% AND WE'RE PRODUCING MORE COAL NOW.

AND NO, IT DIDN'T COMPLETELY WIPE OUT BLACK LUNG. THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE WORKING WHO, FOR WHATEVER REASON, STILL GET SOME BLACK LUNG. HOPEFULLY, NO ONE IS NOW GETTING THE SEVERE BLACK LUNG THAT MY, AND REPRESENTATIVE STUMBO'S, GRANDFATHER DIED OF, BUT IF THEY DO, THEY'LL BE FULLY COMPENSATED UNDER THIS LAW.

FOR THOSE WHO GET THE VERY EARLIEST SIGNS OF THE DISEASE, WE HAVE A VERY GENEROUS TWO-YEAR RETRAINING PROGRAM SO THEY CAN GET OUT OF THE MINES BEFORE IT GETS WORSE. AND THEY CAN FILE FOR THE PROGRAM WHILE THEY'RE STILL WORKING, SOMETHING THEY CAN'T DO NOW.

IT PAYS THEIR TUITION AND OTHER COSTS OF SCHOOL AND PAYS THEM A RELOCATION ALLOWANCE IF THEY HAVE TO MOVE TO FIND A JOB AFTER THEY FINISH SCHOOL.

FOR OTHER MINERS WITH MORE SEVERE BLACK LUNG, OUR PROGRAM PAYS BENEFITS WHICH ARE MORE THAN TWICE WHAT ANY OTHER WORKER IN KENTUCKY WOULD GET FOR THE SAME DISABILITY.

MINERS ARE STILL A PREFERRED CLASS OF WORKER IN KENTUCKY.

BUT THEIR LEADERS AREN'T WILLING TO ADMIT THAT THEY'VE HELD ON TO A PROGRAM IN KENTUCKY THAT'S LONG BEEN ABANDONED IN OTHER STATES.

LAST YEAR, WE AWARDED 139 TOTAL DISABILITIES FOR BLACK LUNG IN KENTUCKY AT AN AVERAGE COST OF $283,000 EACH.

WEST VIRGINIA AWARDED SEVEN.

NO WONDER THEIR COAL PRODUCTION IS GOING UP WHILE KENTUCKY'S PRODUCTION HAS GONE DOWN. 13% IN JUST FIVE YEARS.

LAST WEEK A LABOR LEADER CALLED UP THE DEPARTMENT OF MINES AND MINERALS AND ASKED HOW MANY MINERS WERE WORKING IN KENTUCKY TODAY AND ONE YEAR AGO. THE ANSWER HE GOT, WHICH HE MUST HAVE DECIDED NOT TO USE, WAS TODAY 19,218 MINERS WORKING IN KENTUCKY. ONE YEAR AGO 23,599!

4,381 FEWER COAL MINERS IN KENTUCKY THAN JUST ONE YEAR AGO.

MINERS CONSTITUTE LESS THAN 2% OF KENTUCKY'S WORKFORCE AND RECEIVE ABOUT 55% OF ALL WORKERS' COMPENSATION BENEFITS. NEED I SAY MORE!

THE MINERS' LEADERS STILL FIGHT FOR AN OBSOLETE PROGRAM THAT IS DRAGGING ALL OF KENTUCKY DOWN, MOST OF ALL THE WORKING COAL MINER, AND I'M FIGHTING FOR THE JOBS OF ALL KENTUCKIANS.

PERHAPS I SHOULD EXPECT NO MORE FROM THE LEADERS OF THE MINERS.

I DID EXPECT A LOT MORE FROM THE LEADERS OF LABOR.

PEOPLE WHO I THOUGHT WERE MY FRIENDS, FROM PEOPLE I THOUGHT TRUSTED ME.

IT'S NOT THE FIRST TIME I'VE BEEN DISAPPOINTED IN LIFE, AND WON'T BE THE LAST, BUT IT'S BEEN A HARD COUPLE OF WEEKS.

BUT THAT'S WHAT THE PEOPLE OF KENTUCKY ELECTED ME TO DO, DO WHAT'S RIGHT, EVEN WHEN YOUR FRIENDS ABANDON YOU.

HAVE THE COURAGE TO DISAPPOINT YOUR FRIENDS WHEN YOU KNOW YOU'RE RIGHT.

HAVE THE WILL TO HOLD YOUR GROUND IN THE FACE OF THREATS OF REPRISAL. THAT'S WHAT THE PEOPLE OF YOUR DISTRICTS ELECTED YOU TO DO, TOO.