Under the Dome

Workers compensation law would restrict public access to information

Lawmakers have passed a bill aimed at cracking down on employers that put workers at risk by not holding legally required workers' compensation insurance. But one provision of HB237, added at the last minute, may restrict public access to the information that first brought the problem to light.

An investigation by The News & Observer in April revealed that tens of thousands of North Carolina employers had no workers' compensation insurance and that few faced repercussions, in large part because the state often learns about noncompliant companies when a worker is hurt and appealing for help.

The Rate Bureau, a group of insurance companies that among other things sets the rate for workers' compensation insurance, informs the state-led Industrial Commission of companies that are noncompliant; the Industrial Commission does not collect the information on its own.

Under the bill passed by the General Assembly on Thursday, though, the information used for the investigation would have been shielded from public view.

Rep. Dale Folwell, a Forsyth Republican and one of the bill's primary sponsors, said in an interview the goal is to protect confidentiality of companies providing information to the Rate Bureau. The confidentiality law would be the same as that governing the Department of Labor, he said.

"What I desire is that once we figure out someone has really dropped their coverage, once a case is open, it's all open records," Folwell said.

Gov. Bev Perdue is still reviewing the bill, according to spokesman Mark Johnson.

— Staff writer Austin Baird

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