Ray Carter | April 9, 2019
Teacher liability insurance measure clears House committee
Legislation providing state-funded liability insurance policies for teachers easily passed the House Insurance Committee on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 750 would create the “Educators' Professional Liability Insurance Program” for teachers and other school employees, providing payment for up to $2 million in coverage per incident each year. If the bill becomes law, funding for the program would be included in state school appropriations.
Rep. Mark Lepak, R-Claremore and House author of the measure, said the bill would provide liability insurance to approximately 85,000 school employees. Prior fiscal analysis put the cost to the state at $56,000 to $168,000 annually. However, Lepak said he has been told the cost could be up to $10 million annually and that review is ongoing to determine the exact cost.
State law already protects teachers from lawsuit related to actions taken in the normal course of their jobs. However, supporters of SB 750 argue teachers can still be held personally liable and sued in certain circumstances. An oft-cited example is a teacher who breaks up a fight between students would violate some school districts’ policies in the process. If one of those student’s families then chooses to sue, the teacher could be held personally liable. The policies provided through SB 750 would insure educators against such incidents.
Lepak said he’s been told some school districts already purchase similar policies for their employees, but he said SB 750 would provide greater security than those arrangements.
“Districts have coverage, but at some point the interests of the district and the individual can separate,” Lepak said, “and there are numerous situations where that can occur.”
Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair and author of SB 750, has also said the legislation would benefit teachers at districts that already provide extra liability coverage because the bill would create a large risk pool that lowers premium costs.
A poll of 500 likely Oklahoma voters conducted by Cor Strategies in late March found 61 percent of Oklahoma voters support proposals like SB 750, while not quite 25 percent were opposed. The survey was commissioned by the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, parent organization of the Center for Independent Journalism.
SB 750 passed the House Insurance Committee on a 6-3 vote and now proceeds to the floor of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. A similar proposal has already passed that chamber on a 77-15 vote.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.