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Ertc Unn AtqffWrtter
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WLUlam Manning J*ressman
Lonnle Sprinkle Assistant Pressman
PAGE 4 -A, THURSDAY, JULY 21. 1994
-4- - -
Reform Is Finally Passed
BY MICHAEL LOWRY
In a year of legislative irresponsibility and seemingly endless
disagreement over the state budget, the General Assembly man
aged to get something basically right: workers' compensation re
The breakthrough came as the various groups arguing over
how the program should be reformed ? including businesses, in
surance companies, worker groups and unions, and trial
lawyers ? got together and worked out their differences.
Accusations that last year's bill favored business and insurers at
the expense of workers helped to kill it.
There has been general consensus for some time that some
sort of worker's compensation reform was needed. Worker's
compensation premiums have soared in recent years, climbing
from a total of $550 million paid by ail firms in the state in 1990
to more than $1 billion last year. This, in turn, discourages busi
ness from relocating to the state or expanding plants already here.
The question was how to reform the program.
In the end, the competing groups ? prodded on by Speaker
of the House Dan Blue (D-Wake) and Howard Bunn, chairman
of the N.C. Industrial Commission, which runs the state's work
er's compensation program ? have agreed to compromise. Each
group gains something important to it. Labor and trial lawyers
arc happy that the compromise includes a provision allowing em
ployers to make payments to certain injured workers even before
the Industrial Commission makes a ruling on their cases. The im
pending law would also establish a nine-month trial period, so
that injured employees could return to work and still be eligible
for for benefits if they fcur.d they were not well yei, auu an om
budsman to help make the unrepresented aware of their rights.
Business would benefit as the compromise restores a provi
sion that lets an employer terminate benefits after two years un
less a worker applies for future medical benefits or the Industrial
Commission orders continued benefits. Last year the state
Supreme Court ruled that the traditional two-year statute of limi
tations does not apply. That ruling costs North Carolina business
an estimated $200 million a year in higher premiums.
The compromise would also change how medical care is
handled. Health care costs now account for half of all worker's
compensation payments and have risen in recent years at rates 50
percent higher than the generally high rate of medical inflation in
the country. One major reason for this is that workers and em
ployers have no incentive to hold down costs: someone else ?
typically the insurer ? is directly paying every cent of the bill.
The coming law will allow managed care approaches to be ap
plied to worker's compensation. It would also grant the Industrial
Commission the authority to set maximum fee schedules and
adopt utilization rules and guidelines for medical care.
All sides seem fairly happy with the outcome. For example,
Randall Avram, a Raleigh lawyer working for an employers
group, told The News & Observer of Raleigh, "It took a lot of
work from a lot of folks from very diverse interests to come up
with this bill. It makes good progress towards reducing worker's
comp costs." Chris Scott, president of the N.C. chapter of the
AFL-CIO, was no less sanguine, "There are some provisions
where a particular worker might not get as much as he would
have before. But it's not unfair to workers' interests."
The worker's compensation bill addresses the key issue dri
ving up costs: medical expenses. By allowing a managed care ap
proach to be applied, businesses and insurance companies should
be able to control costs and hold down premiums, although a bet
ter cost-control technique would have been to allow larger de
ductibles (up to $1 million) and employee medical savings from
which small claims could be paid.
large-deductible plans, available in some 30 states, allow for
a more efficient administration of claims. And three states allow
all firms to opt out of the system altogether, setting up other fi
nancial mechanisms to cover worker injuries.
But so far, so good. Further reform of workers' comp is now
possible because of the General Assembly's laudable first step.
Lowrey is an economist and fellow at the John Locke
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Aldermen's Rejection Of VFD
License Plates Said 'Appalling '
To the editor:
I'm writing this letter addressing
the appalling rejection by the Shal
lotte alderman for the purchase of 20
firefighter (front license plate) tags
requested by the Shallotte Volunteer
I think these firefighters, as well
as firefighters everywhere, deserve a
little, if not a lot, of thanks for being
there when you need them. As a
Brunswick County firefighter, I
serve 200 to 250 volunteer hours a
year in the fire service.
Fire fighting is America's number
one most admired job. Let R.D.
"whiie \i company catch on fire and
see who stays and sec who runs.
Every call, firefighters risk their
lives to save life and property.
Asking for everything and giving
nothing is a sure way to bust a fire
department. Remember: what if vol
unteers didn't volunteer?
There is a special camaraderie
about belonging to the fire service. I
absolutely love it. My department
gave me my tag. which I am very
proud to display These tags cost on
ly a very small fraction of a depart
ment's budget Fhis would be one
way of saying. "Thank you for being
there ? a job well done "
Urunsw ivk County Firefighter
(Murr Letters, Following Page)
Even In Video Age, Nothing Beats A Good Story
We hear a great deal of talk about
kids' fascination with the tube.
We've seen the statistics on how
many hours were week arc spent
with eyes glued to the television set.
We hear commentators moum the
loss of the oral tradition in a second
paced video age.
Well, let me tell you, the oral tra
dition is alive, well and experiencing
a resurgence in popularity across the
In every culture, in every lan
guage. the National Storytelling
Association reminds us, stories
weave their way from one genera
tion to the next. Around camp fires,
coffee shop counters and (amily din
ner tables, a story well told capti
vates our imaginations.
Maybe Willa Cather said it best in
O Pioneers.': "There are only two or
three human stories, and they go on
repeating themselves as fiercely as if
ilisj immj uevci iiapiKiicu UCIOtC."
Those stories are told and retold,
imbued freshly in each retelling with
a richness of color, detail, texture
and local application. Our tale-tel
lers remember the past, comment on
the present, and imagine the future.
My cousin Margaret Usher
Southcrland. who lives in Jack
sonville. Ha., these days, used to
frighten us Usher girls to silence
with her tales of horror people with
men with golden arms and hooks,
long-dead people who periodically
reappeared and a glowing cigarette
that took on life-like characteristics.
She came by her skills naturally.
Family members used lo gather
'round her father, my "Uncle Bill"
who was old enough to be my
grandfather, and listen as he shared
his family stories.
Stories, tall tales, fables, myths,
Whatever we call them, they col
lectively tickle our funny bone with
laughter, provoke our intellect, in
spire our souls, teach us wisdom,
help us to understand ourselves and
others. They are a time-honored ve
hicle for passing on important infor
mation from one generation to the
next. Aesop's and Anderson's work,
like the B'rcr Rabbit and Jack tales
of the southern coastal and mountain
traditions, all convey morals that re
flect the values of a family or a soci
ety. The Bible is perhaps the classic
example, as both the written record
of an oral tradition, and as the pri
mary source of a continuing oral tra
dition, the Bible story.
Here in North Carolina we're for
tunate to have home grown a slew of
fine storytellers, each with a distinc
tive style and repertoire. Ray Hicks,
a Banner Elk farmer, regales listen
crs with his Appalachian tales every
summer at the storytelling fest at
Beech Mountain. He's also the only
storyteller invited every year to the
national festival. Some Tar Heel
tellers, like Mike Cross and David
Holt, blend musical and storytelling
skills. Then there's Charles K. omit,
collaborator with Loonis McGlohon
on / Like Calling North Carolina
The Coastal Cohorts ? Bland
Simpson. Jim Wann and Don
Dixon ? blend writing, storytelling,
drama and music. Local audiences
will get to see and hear this trio pre
sent a revival of their coastal
Carolina revue "King Mackerel and
the Blues Are Running" Sept. 8 in
Wilmington during the Year of the
In "King Mack." they capture and
celebratc life on the Carolina coast:
Joy rides on the beach, shagging in
the sand, riding out a hurricane,
ghost stories (the Maco Light), the
thrill of catching a king, and the qui
et savoring of an indescribable day,
the kind that makes us never want to
leave. ("Oh, it's a beautiful
day.. .Lord, you don't make too
many this way.")
My favorite Tar Heel storyteller,
though, is Jackie Torre nee, a black
woman from High Point with an in
credible gift. She began telling the
wise and colorful stories told her by
her parents and grandparents while
working in the children's department
at the municipal library. As her pop
ularity grew she shared them with
school children across the state.
Today she has a national and proba
bly international following and is a
recurring hit at the National
Storytelling Festival held each fall
in Jonesbo rough, Tenn.. the town
that at one time served as the last
outpost of civilization for explorers.
I first experienced Jackie's gift in
the late 1970s. A group of Burke
County primary school students sat
spellbound in the comer of the
recreation center, as Jackie Torrence
became the snake whose African
tale she told.
Her tongue flickered, her eyes
gleamed. Her neck coiled and her
voice flexed like rubber She sent
chills up my spine.
She also gained a lifelong fan of
her tapes, books and public appear
ances. And when there weren't
enough of those. I started branching
out and listening to the work of oth
Browsing in The Intimate Book
store in Chapel Hill last weekend, 1
ran across her first book. The
Importance of Pot Liquor. I didn't
buy it or even open it; I just looked
at the cover and allowed my mind to
wander as the imagined aroma of
pot liquor triggered an avalanche of
Pot liquor isn't found in too many
dictionaries, but we know what it is:
Not just the liquid left in a pot after
something's been cooked, but its
essence, its spirit, its flavors min
gled, reduced, concentrated.
Just like a good story, well told.
It's Our Problem Too, And It Won't Go Away
Sometimes you have to take the bull
by the tail and face ihe situation.
? W C. Fields
Why should we care about Haiti?
What does it matter to Americans
if over six million citizens of the
poorest nation in the hemisphere
live under a hopelessly corrupt and
repressive military government that
shelters cocaine smugglers (for a
price) and routinely allows its sol
diers to rape, torture and murder
anyone who opposes its authority?
It used to be easy to ignore the
problems of Haiti. But not anymore.
Not with millions of U.S. tax dollars
being spent to control a mass exodus
of refugees so desperate that they
will pack into leaky boats and cast
themselves into the sea on the
slimmest hope of drifting towards
something ? anything ? better than
what they left behind.
Nowadays there is serious talk of
an imminent U.S. invasion to over
throw the Haitian dictatorship.
American warships are steaming to
ward the Caribbean with our sons
and daughters (many from North
Carolina) aboard. If they are ordered
to land, some will never return.
Today, the "problem" of Haiti is in
Does that mean we should in
vade? The exiled president whom
our soldiers would die to reinstate is
a leftist demagogue who has re
ferred to America in campaign
speeches as "the devil." During his
brief time in office, his human rights
record was undoubtedly better than
the military junta's, but far from ad
mirable. Unlike the generals, how
ever, he was legally elected.
I can't say whether we should go
to war to reinstate Juan-Bertrand
Aristide. I only know that there is
reason to care about the people of
Watching the scenes of boat peo
ple being loaded onto U.S. Coast
Guard boats, we arc reminded about
two types of Haitian refugees: those
who fear for persecution under a
brutal dictatorship, and those who
are simply fleeing their country's
As a nation that prides itself on
freedom, America has proudly ac
cepted refugees from repressive
Communist regimes in Cuba,
Vietnam and the Soviet bloc.
Likewise, we feel morally bound to
extend the same hand to those who
are at risk for opposing an illegal
and murderous government in Haiti.
But with our border states over
burdened by a constant influx of
economic refugees, we feel less in
clined to lay out the welcome mat
for those who simply desire a new
start in the "land of opportunity."
In the case of Haiti, for all practi
cal purposes, that distinction is irrel
evant. The disparity between condi
tions there and in the United States
is so monumental that we can forev
er expect hordes of people to risk
their lives for what they mast see as
a journey from hell to heaven.
The average income in Haiti is
$300 a year, versus about S 14.000 in
America. Out of every 1.000 births,
107 Haitian babies die in infancy, a
rate ten times that of the U.S. A
male child born in Haiti can look
forward to living about 52 years. In
America, he could expect to live at
least 20 years longer.
With their government in constant
turmoil and the richest nation on
earth only 600 miles away (down
wind), it's no wonder so many
Haitians try to escape. What is sur
prising is the number who are will
ing to remain.
Haitians are not lazy. Most of
those who have jobs arc paid a few
dollars a day for back-breaking field
work. Others toil in factories or eke
out a rncagcr cxuicncc pcrfunriing
menial tasks for the wealthy elite.
I once drove a delivery truck for a
New Jersey lumber company where
the assistant yard foreman was a
young Haitian man named Gil. He
was the hardest working person I
have ever met.
Every morning, as the rest of us
gathered in the office to sip coffee
and ease into the work day, Gil
would already be striding around the
lumber yard, loading gravel into
dump trucks, selecting lengths of
wooden molding, weighing nails
and rounding up the doors and win
dow units listed on our orders.
Gil's enthusiasm was infectious.
His jet-black face wore a perpetual
smile of perfect white teeth. He was
constantly chattering away with a
sing-song accent liberally seasoned
with Creole phrases.
He could lift more weight, hustle
more materials and keep working
longer than anyone in the yard. If he
was nearby, Gil would immediately
pitch in to help another worker. His
energy was inspiring and made us
feel guilty about taking a break.
I never heard him complain.
Never saw him avoid a task. If an
other worker dropped something or
made a silly mistake, Gil would
burst out with a laugh so delightfully
childlike that even the surliest
grump would wind up chuckling at
Every day when the yaid closed
and we all headed home exhausted.
Gil would meet his mother and sis
ters at the gate to begin his second
job. The entire family worked six
nights a week cleaning local offices.
He told me they were saving money
to bring other relatives out of Haiti.
One afternoon Gil invited me to a
party at his home in the town's low
incnme housing prowl. I didn't re
ally feel like going, but we had be
come good friends and he was insis
The gathering turned out to be a
huge reunion of Haitian families,
mostly from New York City. There
were more than 150 people there,
stoking barbecue grills and sampling
a large buffet of Caribbean dishes.
I was immediately made to forget
that I was the only white face in the
crowd as mothers stuffed me full of
wonderful food and daughters
showed me how to dance to the
cheerful island rhythms blasting
from a cranked-up stereo system.
The men patted me on the back
and laughed good-naturedly at my
efforts. They spoke mostly in French
or Creole among themselves, but al
ways switched to English as a cour
tesy whenever I was nearby.
It was an evening I can never for
get. Nor can I look at the faces star
ing up from Coast Guard boats with
out wondering how those people
might tee with a little help from a
"GovumnuU is so tedious that Jiwirtwn you wonder if the govern
ment itni being boring on purpoae. Maybe A ty're dying to pat as to
sleep so we won't notice what they're doing. Every aspect of our exis
ten ce is ajjtciea uy government, so ruuurauy we warn to Keep cm eye <m
the thing. Yet whenever we regular citizens ay to read a book on govern
ment or watch one of those TV public affairs programs about government
or listen to anything anybody whoi in the government is saying. we feel
like high school students who've fallen two weeks behind in their algebra
class. Then we grow drowsy and torpid, and the next thing yarn know we
are snoring like a gas-powered weed whacker. This could be intentional
Our government could be attempting to ertahlirh a Dictatorship nf
Boredom in this country The last person left awake gets to spend ail the
tax money "