House passes changes to workers' comp law

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Legislation “is about protecting jobs while keeping workers covered.”

Bipartisan legislation passed Tuesday by the House is aimed at improving insurance coverage at lower cost to companies and their workers in the recreational boating industry.

The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act was amended to simplify the definition of recreational vessels.

The less complicated language identifies who is and who is not eligible for getting state workers’compensation coverage and therefore facilitates the issuance of marine insurance. The end result is expected to benefit both workers and businesses in terms of increased coverage and economic relief.

“Put simply, this bill is about protecting jobs while keeping workers covered. With 300 plus miles of inland waterways and 50,000 registered yachts, Ft. Lauderdale is the yachting capital of the world,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said in a statement.

“In Broward County alone, there are over 90,000 jobs in the recreational marine industry. These jobs allow workers to buy homes, provide for their families and contribute significantly to local economies,”Wasserman Schultz said. “In 1984 and in 2009 Congress intended to make sure these workers and families were covered. This bill keeps that promise.”

In 2011, the Department of Labor issued a rule that contracted the exception, rather than expand it as Congress intended. Consequently, repair workers reverted to working without coverage due to the affordability and availability of the federal insurance, according to the Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

“Members of Congress, especially Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as the principal sponsor in the House, deserve the credit for protecting every boatyard, marina and subcontractor in the country and their employees,”said MIASF president Kristina Hebert and COO of Ward's Marine Electric based in Fort Lauderdale, in a statement.

She also noted that the recreational marine community has been encouraging Congress to make the legislative change dating back to 2002.

The legislation was spearheaded and introduced last January by Wasserman Shultz.

Co-sponsors and industry supporters include Reps. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., Ted Deutsch, D-Fla., Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., Tom Petri, R-Wis., and Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

The bill will now head to the Senate for a vote.