By Luke Engan CNHI News Service



OKLAHOMA CITY -- A workers' comp change recently signed into law could make Bill Ham-mock's job more expensive.

Hammock, an independent housing contractor in Enid, carries a Certificate of Non-Coverage. The card confirms to others he does not need workers' compensation insurance because he works on a contract basis.

Approved this year by Gov. Brad Henry and the Legislature, the reform package heralded as saving money has a problem area, he said.

"I know they're trying to make things better, but what they've done here is sure not going to make things better," Hammock said Thursday by phone from the site of an Enid house nearing completion.

Issued by the Labor Department, Hammock's CNC costs him $20 a year. But under the changes, which go into effect July 1, Hammock may need to spend $3,700 for insurance -- or $350 per year to get a similar CNC card from CompSource, the state's central workers' comp insurer.

He questions a provision that will halt the Labor Department from issuing the cards, starting next month.

The added expenses could mean more expensive houses, as workers like Hammock pass on their added costs, he said.

Hammock has worked construction for about 25 years. Because he does framing, his workers' comp premiums would be more expensive than for some others employed at housing sites.

He learned of the changes about three weeks ago from his wife, who works for an insurance company.

But Hammock and another independent contractor line up work as much as eight months in advance. The two partner up, bidding on the same projects.

"I don't know what's going to happen after July 1, because either we won't be able to do those because of the bid I give or we'll have to do something else," he said.

The several thousand independent contractors in Hammock's predicament have several allies at the state Capitol.

Rep. Ryan Kiesel, D-Seminole, joined the call for addressing the provision eliminating Certificates of Non-Coverage in special session.

The Labor Department issues the certificates to certain independent contractors not required to be covered by workers' comp insurance.

But this year's changes to workers' comp law, intended overall to reduce costs, put an end to CNC certificates starting July 1.

"The elimination of Certificates on Non-Coverage places an undue burden on small businesses and the self-employed and could end up costing them millions of dollars in the long run," Kiesel said.

Sens. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, and Cliff Aldridge, R-Midwest City, previously called for addressing the issue in special session.

This week, Anderson and Aldridge asked Attorney General Drew Edmondson to issue an official opinion stating whether certificates issued before July 1 should remain good until they expire.

Hammock's CNC would last another 15 months if Edmondson determines the cards stay valid.

Senate staff said the cards can remain in effect after July 1 until their expiration dates.

Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau said the department is working to accommodate contract workers in their plight.

"The Labor Department, in fulfilling its responsibilities, will not take any adverse action against CNC cardholders unless a cardholder's circumstances have changed to such an extent that he or she is no longer qualified as a sole proprietor," Reneau said.

"The bottom line is we simply can't pull the rug out from under legitimate men and women who make their living as sole proprietors just because there may be a few kinks to work out among state policymakers."



Engan is CNHI Oklahoma reporter.



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