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NO. 97. AN ACT RELATING TO WORKERS' COMPENSATION VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION BENEFITS.

(H.185)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1. 21 V.S.A. § 641 is amended to read:

§ 641. VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION

(a) When as a result of an injury covered by this chapter, an employee is unable to perform work for which the employee has previous training or experience, the employee shall be entitled to vocational rehabilitation services, including retraining and job placement, as may be reasonably necessary to restore the employee to suitable employment. The employer shall designate a vocational rehabilitation provider from a list provided by the commissioner to initially provide services. Thereafter, the employee may select another vocational rehabilitation provider from a list provided by the commissioner upon giving the employer written notice of the employee’s reasons for dissatisfaction with the designated provider and the name and address of the provider selected by the employee. If these services are not voluntarily offered and accepted by the employee, the commissioner, if necessary through informal hearing, may refer the employee to a qualified physician or appropriate facility for evaluation of the practicability of, need for, and kind of service, treatment, or training necessary and appropriate to render the employee fit for a remunerative occupation. Upon receipt of findings and after affording the parties an opportunity to be heard, the commissioner may order that the services and treatment recommended, or such other rehabilitation treatment or service the commissioner may deem necessary be provided at the expense of the employer. When vocational rehabilitation requires residence at or near a facility or institution, away from the employee's customary residence, the reasonable cost of board, lodging or travel or both shall be paid for by the employer. In addition, the employer shall pay reasonable costs of books, tools or other basic materials required in such rehabilitation process. Refusal to accept vocational rehabilitation pursuant to an order of the commissioner may result in loss of compensation for each week of the refusal, if the commissioner so directs.

(b) Any person offering to provide vocational rehabilitation services to workers’ compensation recipients shall register with the department and shall possess appropriate qualification as established by the department by rule. The commissioner may determine that a vocational rehabilitation service provider lacks the appropriate qualifications if the provider fails to comply with the educational and training requirements established by the commissioner and may revoke the provider’s registration.

(c) The commissioner may adopt rules necessary to carry out the purpose of this section.

Sec. 2. 21 V.S.A. § 652 is amended to read:

§ 652. --PERIODICAL PAYMENTS; LUMP SUM PAYMENTS

(a) Upon application of either party, *[in his discretion,]* the commissioner may authorize compensation to be paid monthly or quarterly instead of weekly, having regard to the welfare of the employee and the convenience of the employer.

(b) Upon application of the employee, if the commissioner finds it to be in the best interest of the employee or the employee’s dependants, the commissioner may order the payment of permanent disability benefits pursuant to section 644 or 648 of this title to be paid in a lump sum.

Sec. 3. 21 V.S.A. § 644(b) is amended to read:

(b) The enumeration in subsection (a) of this section is not exclusive, and, in order to determine disability under this section, the commissioner shall consider other specific characteristics of the claimant, including the claimant’s age, experience, training, education and mental capacity.

Sec. 4. 21 V.S.A. § 662(e) is added to read:

(e) In any dispute between employers and insurers arising under subsection (c) or (d) of this section, after payment to the claimant, the commissioner may order that the dispute be resolved through arbitration rather than the formal hearing process under sections 663 and 664 of this title. Qualifications for arbitrators and standards for the arbitration process shall be established by the commissioner by rule. If arbitration is ordered, the process shall proceed as follows:

(1) The parties shall select an arbitrator from a list provided by the commissioner.

(2) The arbitrator shall:

(A) Determine apportionment of the liability for the claim, including costs and attorney fees, among the respective employers or insurers, or both. The apportionment may be limited to one or more parties. If the parties do not agree, the costs of arbitration may be apportioned among the parties by the arbitrator.

(B) Issue a written decision which shall be final.

Sec. 5. RETURN TO WORK STUDY

No later than January 1, 2001, the Commissioner of Labor and Industry shall offer recommendations to the Senate Committee on General Affairs and Housing and the House Committee on General, Housing and Military Affairs regarding measures improving return to work opportunities for employees who have suffered work-related injuries.

Approved: May 2, 2000