AUGUSTA – A bill passed by legislators Tuesday would give state regulators more authority to issue stop-work orders at construction sites operated by employers who fail to pay for workers’ compensation insurance.

“The industry is asking for more enforcement,” said Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who is co-chairman of the Labor Committee.

Jackson spoke during Senate debate on LD 1565. Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, joined 20 Democrats to support the measure. In the House, only three Republicans supported the bill. It now goes to Gov. John Baldacci for his signature.

Gubernatorial candidate Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, said the $161,000 needed to add two positions at the Workers’ Compensation Board to enforce the measure constitutes a tax on employers.

But Democratic lawmakers and state officials say the positions would be paid for by the board’s reserve fund, which has a balance of $2.1 million.

“Employers will not see an increase in their workman’s compensation premiums to pay for those two positions,” said Steven Minkowsky, deputy director of benefit administration at the board.

“We’re expecting workers’ compensation rates to continue to go down for Maine employers, because there will be more employers paying for worker’s compensation insurance,” Minkowsky said.

Bill supporters say it would benefit employers who follow the law by penalizing those who don’t pay into the insurance pool. Until now, they said, the state has been stymied in enforcing payment on employers who often finish jobs and quickly move on.

“People know that if they hurry up and get it done, there’s nothing that can be done,” Jackson told the Senate.

Minkowsky said that according to the state’s database, 6,000 to 18,000 employers in the state fail to provide workers’ compensation insurance.

A 2005 study found that Maine lost from $4.5 million to $6 million annually in premiums from 1999 to 2002.

Under the version approved by the House and Senate, employers would have three business days’ warning before a stop-work order is issued. If an employer then provides workers’ comp, the order can be suspended.

Construction companies can also work out payment plans to have an order rescinded, rather than paying the full fine up front.

“We don’t want employers to be alarmed,” Minkowsky said. “We are going to be using this in a very measured and a very prudent manner.”

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: [email protected]