Taking umbrage at Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign to lure California businesses, the Sacramento Bee swiped at Texas in an editorial stating that among its shortcomings, Texas is last in workers’ compensation coverage.
The radio ad by the Texas governor said “Building a business is tough, but I hear building a business in California is next to impossible,” the Republican governor says in the ad. “This is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and I have a message for California businesses: Come check out Texas.”
And the Sacramento Bee editorial responded by saying “Yes, come check out Texas. Check out a state that ranks dead last in the percent of its population with high school diplomas. Come check out a state that is last in mental health expenditures and workers’ compensation coverage. Come check out a state that ranks first in the number of executions, first in the number of uninsured, first in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted and first in the amount of toxic chemicals released into water.”
Fact checkers soon joined the battle.
Stuart Leavenworth, who edits the Bee’s editorial page, offered as a basis for this claim a February 2011 report, “Texas on the Brink,” issued by a Texas House caucus called the Legislative Study Group. The basis for the report’s ranking on “workers’ compensation coverage” was 2006 data on the percentage of workers covered in each state that came from the National Academy of Social Insurance, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit group that researches such issues.
And herein lies an important anomaly: Texas is the only state that does not require all employers to obtain workers’ compensation coverage. Experts we consulted agreed this is the reason why Texas consistently ranks last and well behind other states in the proportion of workers covered.
There are exceptions; the National Federation of Independent Business says in an online comparison of such state laws that those include government construction contracts. In those cases, workers can file compensation claims, a right that employees usually give up in workers’ compensation agreements, “if they think they have a genuine case and the employer is still refusing to pay monetary benefits,” the summary says. And other states exempt certain employers.
The academy’s most recent data on the percentage of workers covered in each state comes from 2010. As charted in an August 2012 report, it shows that while Texas had 78.6 percent of workers covered, no other state had less than 94.9 percent covered. Thirteen states — including California — had 100 percent covered.
Jennifer Wolf, executive director of an association representing state and provincial workers’ compensation systems in the U.S. and Canada, said there can be “quite a bit of difference” between states, especially “when you are comparing different types of benefits (temporary, permanent partial, permanent total).” Wolf’s group, the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions, is based in Madison, Wis.
Wolf and Amy Lee, a Texas Department of Insurance expert on workers’ compensation at the Texas Department of Insurance said that most states’ systems have gradually come into line with a set of federal recommendations issued in 1972. Wolf said the most recent check on compliance with those guidelines was a Jan. 1, 2004, report from a branch of the U.S. Department of Labor. States averaged compliance with 12.83 of the 19 recommendations, the report said; Texas’ compliance was slightly below average, at 12.5.