1st District Court of Appeal Accepts Health Insurance Law Referendum Case
The 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco on Dec. 23 agreed to accept a case that involves the placement of a proposed referendum to repeal an employer-sponsored health insurance law (SB 2) on the March statewide ballot, the Los Angeles Times reports (Ingram, Los Angeles Times, 12/24/03). The court also ordered the printing of the March presidential primary ballots to proceed on schedule without the referendum (Kravets, AP/Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 12/24/03). However, the appeals court ruling orders the lower court to direct the secretary of state to certify the referendum for the March ballot "unless opponents can show cause to do otherwise," according to the Oakland Tribune,(Oakland Tribune, 12/24/03). SB 2, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2006, will require employers with 200 or more employees to provide health insurance to workers and their dependents by 2006 or pay into a state fund that would provide such coverage. Employers with 50 to 199 employees will have to provide health insurance only to workers by 2007, and employers with fewer than 20 workers will be exempt from the law. Those with 20 to 49 employees will be exempt from the law unless the state provides tax credits to subsidize the cost of health benefits. Former Gov. Gray Davis (D) signed the law in October. Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly last month ruled that petitions to place the referendum to repeal SB 2 on the March ballot were invalid because they misled voters. Californians Against Government Run Healthcare, a coalition of business groups led by the California Chamber of Commerce, appealed the decision to the 3rd District Court of Appeal, but that court's 10 justices recused themselves from the case because retired Justice Daniel Kolkey, one of their former colleagues who resigned in November, signed a legal brief filed in the case (California Healthline, 12/22/03). The 1st District Court set a hearing date of Jan. 15 -- three weeks after ballot printing began Dec. 26 -- and directed both sides to submit briefs in the case by Jan. 2 (Los Angeles Times, 12/24/03).
Supporters of SB 2, including organized labor and physicians, said the Dec. 23 ruling, with its late hearing date, would keep the referendum off the March 2 ballot in part because the first ballots were scheduled to be sent to voters living abroad on Jan. 2 (Los Angeles Times, 12/24/03). "It's too late [for a March referendum on the issue] unless the court is willing to cause a huge expense, confusion and disruption," Robin Johansen, an attorney for SB 2 sponsors Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) and Sen. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough), said (Silber, Contra Costa Times, 12/24/03). However, employers and restaurateurs supporting the referendum said the decision was a "positive step" in getting the issue on the March ballot (Los Angeles Times, 12/24/03). Sara Lee, spokesperson for the California Chamber of Commerce, said that even if the referendum cannot appear on the March ballot, it could be placed on the November ballot. She added, "The ultimate goal is to see that the voter's right to place this on a ballot is upheld" (Contra Costa Times, 12/24/03).
Additional information on SB 2 is available online.