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Tuesday, May 27, 2014
Workers' comp bill scrapped for now

By Mike Triplett
ESPN.com

A controversial workers' compensation bill in Louisiana that sparked a battle between the New Orleans Saints and the NFL Players Association has been pulled from consideration for the current legislative session.

Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, said he decided to pull the bill he had proposed with the backing of the Saints in hopes all parties could reach a compromise in the future. In essence, the NFLPA forced a punt after an aggressive defensive stand over the past several weeks.

The union's fight included public appeals from union leader DeMaurice Smith and Saints quarterback Drew Brees, among others.

"Players fought hard to preserve this important right and benefit in our state," former NFLPA president Kevin Mawae said in a statement. "We appreciate all the legislators' efforts on our behalf and are pleased with the outcome."

However, it wasn't a total victory for the NFLPA -- which also had its own proposed bill rejected earlier this year -- since the issue remains unresolved. The debate over how workers' compensation benefits should be calculated in Louisiana has been ongoing for years in a series of individual court cases. And as Saints outside counsel Christopher Kane pointed out, the law now will revert back to the status quo, which has led to unfavorable rulings for players in six of the past seven cases that reached the appellate court level.

Essentially, the debate is over whether professional athletes should be paid workers' comp benefits based on their projected annual salary or their current weekly salary at the time an injury occurs. It's a murky issue since NFL players typically earn the bulk of their salary through weekly game checks during the regular season and earn very little money during the offseason. And it's even murkier since many past cases have involved players who either weren't likely or weren't guaranteed to make the final 53-man roster.

"I don't think there's a winner or a loser in the process right now. Neither bill at the end of the day is gonna become law," said Kane, who stressed that the ultimate goal remains to find a way to avoid repeated litigation over the same issue in the future. "I think the positive from it is we've expressed and continue to express a willingness to work together with the other side to address this issue.

"My hope is now all parties understand [the] issue. And we're committed to having a meaningful discussion and resolution."

The NFLPA lived up to Smith's promise from earlier this month to engage in a "massive effort" to fight the bill that passed through the Louisiana House of Representatives and was awaiting a vote from the full Senate. Brees publicly criticized the bill, saying that issues related to health and safety are "non-negotiable."

And Smith sent an email to agents advising of the "potential consequences" should their players sign with the Saints. Smith even hinted that the NFLPA might not agree to any possible expansion of playoffs while this issue remained at large.

Kane, however, previously stressed that the bill was not intended to change any current laws. Instead, he said, it simply was aiming to make permanent the way the law has been interpreted repeatedly by appellate courts and the state Senate in numerous past debates. And both Kane and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello stressed that the proposed bill wouldn't have affected any of the injury and medical benefits that players receive as part of the league's collective bargaining agreement.

Broadwater said that if the two sides don't reach a deal before the 2015 regular legislative session, he'll bring the bill again.