The Oklahoma House of Representatives, has just approved legislation requiring that the State Senate confirm all worker’s compensation judges.
The measure, which passed on a 62-36 vote, was quickly condemned by a spokesperson for Governor Brad Henry, who appoints the worker’s comp judges in his state. The measure asked for a vote of the people, in order to amend the state constitution and require Senate approval before any such appointees could take their seats.
Supporters of the measure believe the process would increase the judges’ accountability, and mimic the Senate confirmation that is required when judges are appointed for the Federal court, but the Governor’s communications director, Paul Sund, pointed out that the federal process is known for partisan politics.
According to Sund, such partisanship in the federal process has left many judges unconfirmed, thus hampering the administration of justice.
Representative Dan Sullivan (R Tulsa), the author of the bill, said that worker’s comp judges have no accountability to the people they are appointed to serve. Currently in Oklahoma, district court judges are elected, while civil, criminal appeals, and supreme court justices all appear on retention ballots at the end of their appointed terms.
Opponents of the bill say that confirmation would bring partisanship into the appointment process, and cause the Democratic governor’s judicial nominees to be scrutinized by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Representative Scott Inman (D Oklahoma City) said the confirmation measure is designed, not to help injured workers, but to protect insurance companies and business, while Representative Richard Morrissette (D Oklahoma City) stated that this issue is political, and that some judges currently on the bench are disliked by state business leaders because their recent rulings have favored workers.
The measure in question is House Joint Resolution 1041