The Florida Legislature voted late Friday to abolish the state Bureau of Rehabilitation and Reemployment Services and allow the state to contract the rehabilitation of injured workers out to private vocational counselors.
The Senate voted 36 to 1 to approve a report on House Bill 5203 from a House-Senate conference committee. The House approved the measure by a vote of 118 to 0.
If signed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the bill would eliminate 27 workers in the bureau and close the portion of the Workers’ Compensation Administration Trust Fund that finances the rehabilitation program through the Florida Department of Education (DOE). DOE receives $2.5 million a year from the fund, which is financed by assessments on workers’ compensation premiums.
HB 5203 appropriates $350,000 to create five new positions within the Florida Department of Financial Services (DFS) to oversee rehabilitation and retraining contracts. DFS houses the state Division of Workers’ Compensation.
Lawmakers voted last session to cut the bureau’s staff by more than half. A requirement that the unit be abolished also is contained in the House-Senate version of the $70 billion budget for fiscal 2012-2013.
The House staff said in an analysis of the bill that some of the 1,800 injured workers with active cases at the bureau would be eligible for general retraining through the Department of Education’s Vocational Rehabilitation Division, while others would receive services through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The House staff analysis said the $200,000 remaining in DOE’s portion of the Trust Fund for fiscal 2011-2012 would be used to finance payouts and unemployment compensation for the remaining 27 employees.