LEGISLATURE: Races to Finish Business By End of August
As the California Legislature races to decide the fate of 1,634 bills before adjourning on Aug. 31, a bill concerning workers' compensation is topping the agenda, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Labor unions, which donated significant funds to Gov. Gray Davis' (D) 1998 campaign, are asking for a $1 billion increase in benefits for temporarily injured and permanently disabled employees, as California's benefits are among the lowest in the nation. However, businesses oppose the increase unless costs are reduced elsewhere, and Davis said he would not pass a workers' compensation bill until both sides agreed to it. Other health care issues up for discussion this month include the expansion of medical tasks that optometrists can perform (which ophthalmologists oppose) and a request from physicians that HMOs cover more child vaccinations (which HMOs oppose). Complicating the "disposal of so much unfinished business" is the Democratic National Convention, which many of the majority party's members will attend from August 14-17.
A Flurry of Fund Raising
Fund raising activity also puts a strain on legislative deliberations, with 55 fund-raisers scheduled for incumbent legislators, and 20 fund-raisers slated for other candidates (Lucas, 8/7). Assembly Republican Leader Scott Baugh has been particularly ardent in his fund-raising efforts, raking in $600,000 in contributions this year, $60,000 of which was donated by the health care industry, including $26,000 from HMOs and $13,500 physicians and medical groups (Quach, Orange County Register, 8/8). Such hefty contributions from the health care industry are being more intensely scrutinized as a result of the Chuck Quackenbush scandal. On Monday, an assembly committee debated a bill, sponsored by Senate Insurance Committee Chair Jackie Speier (D-Daly City), that would ban companies and organizations regulated by the insurance committee from making campaign contributions to the insurance commissioner or candidates running for the position. The insurance industry opposes the bill, protesting that it should not be "singled out." Alister McAlister, who represents the National Association of Independent Insurers, said, "You cannot hit one industry and say you can't protect yourself in the political realm and your opponents can come against you. We should be able to participate in the political process." The vote was postponed until a meeting next week (Kerr, AP/Sacramento Bee, 8/8).