Republican Rep. Dale Folwell of Forsyth County is a level-headed lawmaker with expertise on budget issues and a lot of the fine print in business regulation. He’s also got an independent streak and isn’t afraid to admit when he makes a mistake. Those are refreshing qualities in a legislative atmosphere of harsh partisanship.
Folwell now reckons he created some unintended consequences when, at the request of Pamela Young, chair of the state Industrial Commission, he changed the law to, in effect keep private data on employers and their insurance policies. That made it impossible for workers to check and see if their employers had workers’ compensation coverage, which would protect them in case they were injured on the job.
Now, Folwell says the law will be reversed, and those records will be available.
Young never should have made that request. She and other members of the commission were embarrassed, or at least let’s hope they were, by News & Observer reports in April that some 30,000 employers, many of them small businesses, were supposed to have workers’ comp insurance but did not. That meant workers were not protected, guaranteed payment for lost work because of injuries and for medical coverage. They did have the alternative to sue, a cumbersome process, and one more costly to negligent employers than carrying insurance would have been.
The commission stepped things up a bit, but the situation in terms of all those businesses without coverage never should have been allowed to develop. As The N&O showed, some of the fault was in a failure on the part of state agencies that dealt with regulations of one kind or another related to businesses to share information with each other.
But there was fault to go around (some of it with the commission, members of which are handsomely compensated appointees of the governor) and a task force is looking still at ways to improve oversight. The legislature should have the opportunity to address any suggestions of the task force that will offer more protection for workers.
For now, however, this plan to reopen these improperly shielded records is at the top of the list. Workers in North Carolina deserve to know whether those for whom they work have the necessary insurance to protect them and their families from bankruptcy in case they are injured on the job. It’s not as if those in North Carolina’s labor force, including many who do hazardous work, have a host of protections and benefits. But they certainly have the right to know what they do have.