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Published: Saturday, 5/24/2008

Ohio budget offers deal for maritime employers


COLUMBUS - Ohio companies paying double workers' compensation freight for dock workers under federal and state systems would get a premium break under language added this week to a proposed $1.3 billion state capital budget.

Added in the House Thursday, the language survived the first rewrite of the capital budget bill in the Senate yesterday and could reach the full chamber next week.

The change is expected to affect 75 to 100 maritime employers on Lake Erie and the Ohio River. They have been paying full insurance premiums to cover their workers under the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation and under the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act system.

An injured worker, however, may collect benefits under just one system.

The bill requires an injured dock worker to apply first for benefits under the federal system. If denied, he could turn to the state system. In return, the state BWC would greatly reduce the company's premiums.

Ohio would be the first Great Lakes state to make the change.

"Passage of this language will make the Toledo Port significantly more competitive on an international scale," said Alex Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Midwest Terminals.

"I anticipate that our volume will increase as a direct result of this bipartisan approach. Clearly, this will help the local economy."

The language is patterned after a bill introduced by Rep. Matt Szollosi (D., Toledo) and Sen. Mark Wagoner (R., Ottawa Hills).

"If employees are doing 98 percent of their work within the parameters of the federal act, the employer could get something like a 98 percent decrease in state workers' compensation premiums," said Mr. Szollosi. "For the purposes of the bureau, it's a wash."

The reduced risk to the state system would result in a reduced premium.

"This has been one of those issues that has been talked about for a while, but [which] no one has been willing to champion," Mr. Wagoner said.

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