Division of Workers’ Compensation Holds Hearing on Emergency Regulations; Burton Voices Concern
The Division of Workers' Compensation on Monday held a hearing on emergency regulations to implement 2004 legislation (SB 899) to reform the state workers' compensation insurance system, the Sacramento Bee reports (Chan, Sacramento Bee, 4/5). DWC was required to hold a hearing by the end of April, when the agency must decide whether to adopt the emergency regulations as permanent or amend them (Abate, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/5).
The emergency regulations, issued in December 2004 by the administration of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), change guidelines for determining workers' compensation insurance payments for permanently injured workers. The emergency regulations took effect for 120 days.
Under the emergency regulations, workers' compensation payments are determined using guidelines developed by the American Medical Association to assess the extent of injuries. Classifications include such factors as age, job and "diminished future earning capacity." Injured workers can appeal their awards in court (California Healthline, 1/3).
At the hearing, former Senate President Pro Tempore John Burton (D-San Francisco) said the "permanent disability regulations are inconsistent with what the governor and I agreed with" in 2004. Burton said that he negotiated reforms with the governor designed to curb "perceived or actual abuses," but Burton added that "no one was supposed to lose a benefit." Burton said he believed that the emergency regulations are "of questionable legality."
In addition, workers' compensation claimaints and the attorneys who represent them said that the emergency regulations reduce disability payments by more than 50%.
David Schwartz, president of the California Applicants' Attorneys Association, said the emergency regulations, if made permanent, would deny representation to injured workers because attorneys would not "be able to afford to take most of these cases."
Schwarzenegger spokesperson Vince Sollitto said, "It's unfortunate that the senator is confused as to how and why these critical reforms were achieved."
Susan Garda, spokesperson for DWC Director Andrea Hoch, said the emergency regulations "are fair and bring an objectivity to the system that wasn't there before" (San Francisco Chronicle, 4/5).
Peter Barth, a workers' compensation expert at the University of Connecticut and a consultant to California, said predictions of large reductions in benefits were "probably a serious overestimate" (Sacramento Bee, 4/5).