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Journal Poll: A question of compensation

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

A strong majority of poll responders believe benefits should be curtailed if a worker is injured while under the influence. This file photo shows heavy construction work in 2009 in Rio Rancho. (Albuquerque Journal File)

A strong majority of poll responders believe benefits should be curtailed if a worker is injured while under the influence. This file photo shows heavy construction work in 2009 in Rio Rancho. (Albuquerque Journal File)

SANTA FE – Roughly two-thirds of likely New Mexico voters support enacting legislation that would deny or significantly curtail workers’ compensation payments in cases where alcohol or drug use led to an employee’s injuries or death, a Journal Poll found.

Sixty-seven percent of those surveyed in the Sept. 9-11 poll said they would back such a law, while 25 percent said they would oppose it. The remaining respondents either said they were undecided or had mixed feelings.

The concept received broad-based support across age groups and education levels and among members of both major political parties, though registered Republicans were more likely than Democrats to voice support.

Recent attempts to enact such a law in New Mexico have stalled in the state Legislature, with opponents raising concerns about the fairness of penalizing surviving spouses and children for the actions of a family breadwinner.

In addition, several state agencies have raised legal issues ranging from how to legally define drug intoxication to how to handle workers’ usage of prescribed medications – including medical marijuana.

‘A gut reaction’

However, Brian Sanderoff, the president of Research & Polling Inc., which conducted the poll, said the survey results indicate most voters have a positive gut reaction to the idea of restricting workers’ compensation

Some state legislatures have already acted to limit workers' compensation if the party injured was impaired. This file photo shows welding customer products at a Gallup company. (The Associated Press)

Some state legislatures have already acted to limit workers’ compensation if the party injured was impaired. This file photo shows welding customer products at a Gallup company. (The Associated Press)

benefits for drunken or drugged employees.

“I think many New Mexico voters have a sense of personal responsibility,” Sanderoff said. “The thinking seems to be, ‘If you contributed to your own demise, maybe your boss shouldn’t have to foot the bill.'”

Workers’ compensation benefits are paid out when an employee is hurt on the job. Under current state law, such benefits can be reduced by a 10 percent amount in cases in which alcohol or drugs are found to be a contributing factor in the incident causing the injuries.

A bill sponsored this year by Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, would have done away with any benefits in cases where a worker’s intoxication was found to be a “contributing cause, to any degree” of injuries or death.

That bill died in its the House Labor and Human Resources Committee, the same panel that killed previous legislation on the subject in 2011 and 2013. Similar bills have also stalled in the Senate during the last two years.

Business groups have backed the legislation, arguing that impaired workers endanger themselves and others and cause the cost of business insurance premiums to increase.

Other states’ rules

A number of other states have laws that restrict or deny workers’ compensation benefits in cases where employee alcohol or drug use led to injuries, according to a 2009 survey by the U.S. Department of Labor.

Workers-comp-pollColorado, for instance, allows benefits to be reduced by 50 percent in such situations, while Florida and Texas are among the states in which benefits can be denied if an employee is found to have been intoxicated on the job at the time of injury, according to the survey.

The recent Journal Poll found 63 percent of Democratic voters interviewed supported enactment of a stricter workers’ compensation law, compared to 27 percent who said they were opposed. Among Republican voters, 72 percent were in favor and 22 percent were in opposition.

In addition, voters in all five regions of the state were more likely to support than oppose the concept.

The poll asked: “New Mexico’s workers’ compensation program pays workers who are injured on the job. Would you support or oppose a law that denies or significantly limits payments to employees whose alcohol or drug use contributed to their injury or death?”

The Journal Poll was based on a scientific, statewide sample of 500 voters who cast ballots in the 2010 and 2012 elections and said they were likely to vote again this year.

The margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

All interviews were conducted live by professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone. Both landlines (73 percent) and cellphone numbers (27 percent) of proven general election voters were used.

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