Saints workers compensation bill dies

Controversial legislation that pitted New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson against his players was declared dead for the session Tuesday.

State Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, said he decided to pull House Bill 1069 because not enough time remains in the legislative session for the Saints and the players to reach an agreement on professional athletes’ injury pay. He said the Saints and the NFL Players Association need to work on a compromise.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees and dozens of other players boarded buses and drove to the State Capitol through a rainstorm Tuesday afternoon to talk to legislators about the bill. With the proposal pulled from consideration, legislators, lobbyists and legislative aides turned into shameless sports fans.

Work on all legislation came to halt as the players filed into the Louisiana House chamber. One legislator, state Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-New Orleans, played a clip of the song “When the Saints Go Marching In” into his microphone. Others legislators lined up to take photos with the players and quickly tweeted the images.

As he headed into the State Capitol, Brees said he hopes a resolution can be reached on how workers compensation should be calculated for professional athletes.

“As you can see behind me, we’ve got about 40 guys here, driving up after practice through the rain to get here. So that just shows how important it is to us. At the end of the day, it’s about showing how important protecting our workers comp rights as Louisiana workers is, and we’re here to make sure those rights are protected,” Brees said.

Earlier in the day, Broadwater said state law needs clarity to stop lawsuits over the issue. The Saints have made a similar argument while the bill’s critics contend Benson just wanted to keep more of his profits by paying players less when they’re injured.

The bill drew criticism from the NFL Players Association and Brees.

Alton Ashy, a lobbyist for the NFL Players Association, said the organization offered a reasonable compromise to base a veteran player’s workers compensation on the previous year’s salary and a rookie’s workers compensation on 50 percent of the league minimum plus earned money and bonuses. Ashy said he believes the Saints rejected the compromise.

“I hope the two sides can sit down and come to an agreement,” he said.

A lobbyist for the Saints declined comment.

At issue in HB1069 was how workers compensation should be calculated for professional athletes such as Saints players. Professional athletes’ pay can vary from month to month. They get stipends for mini camps, organized team practices and training camps. Fatter game checks don’t come until the season starts.

The Saints backed HB1069 to compute workers compensation on the rate of earnings at the time of injury. That calculation could exclude the bigger paychecks that arrive during the season. Earnings that could have been made but for the injury would not be considered.

The NFL Players Association maintained that HB1069 would hurt low-profile athletes who accept a small weekly stipend for a chance at making the cut.

“Players fought hard to preserve this important right and benefit in our state,” read a statement from former NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, an ex-center who went to school at LSU and then was selected to eight Pro Bowls while playing for the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans from 1994 to 2009. “We appreciate all the legislators’ efforts on our behalf and are pleased with the outcome.”

A statement from current NFLPA president Eric Winston added, “The fight in Louisiana proves that players are personally invested in their health and safety. Now is the time for the NFL to take greater leadership on the issue of workers compensation to ensure players have equal treatment in every state.”

Advocate sports writer Ramon Antonio Vargas contributed to this report. Follow Michelle Millhollon on Twitter, @mmillhollon. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.