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Published: Wednesday, 7/19/2006

Hearings requested for BWC revisions


COLUMBUS - A Democratic state senator yesterday called for swift hearings on his bill adopting changes in the operation of Ohio's workers' compensation system as recommended by a state-funded study.

"There have been various changes made to the [Bureau of Workers' Compensation] over the past year, but despite the changes, the current system may only work while everyone involved is still scared of the fallout from the investment scandal," said Sen. Eric Fingerhut (D., Cleveland), a nonvoting member of the bureau's oversight commission.

"With the passage of time, the system will sink back into its old ways," he said.

Sen. Steve Stivers (R., Columbus), chairman of the Senate Insurance, Commerce, and Labor Committee, said he's willing to look at the bill.

But Mr. Stivers said he wants assurances from investigators that testimony at public hearings won't interfere with ongoing criminal cases.

"I'm ever mindful that we need to keep an eye on the ball, but I can't tell you we're going to enact Senator Fingerhut's bill," he said.

Lawmakers are not expected to return from summer recess until September at the earliest.

Evaluation Associates of Norwalk, Conn., conducted the study under the watch of the Ohio Inspector General's office.

Among its recommendations was taking the power to hire the bureau administrator away from the governor and giving it to the oversight commission.

It also recommended sharing the authority to appoint voting members of the commission, which now rests entirely with the governor, with the state auditor, attorney general, legislature, and potentially others.

Mr. Stivers noted that lawmakers already have enacted a series of reforms, including a prohibition on "exotic" investments such as rare coins.

The Blade first reported last year that millions were unaccounted for from the bureau's investments in rare coins run by former Republican fund-raiser Tom Noe. The Blade also reported that $216 million was lost in a risky, off-shore hedge-fund investment run by MDL Capital Management of Pittsburgh.

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