Referendum on Employer-Sponsored Health Coverage Law To Appear on November Ballot
A referendum to repeal a law (SB 2) requiring some companies to provide health insurance to their workers or pay into a state fund that would provide such coverage can appear on the November statewide ballot, a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Thursday, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports (Mendel, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/23). "The Superior Court erroneously prohibited qualification of the referendum for the March 2 ballot," the panel wrote (Chan, Sacramento Bee, 1/23). The appeals court overturned the earlier ruling that the title and summary statements on the referendum petitions contained "misleading and prejudicial" information and that the petitions themselves were technically flawed, the Los Angeles Times reports. The appeals court said that the title and summary statements on the referendum can be "reasonably read to accurately describe the 'chief purposes and points'" of the new law and that the organizers' failure to print the title of the measure on each page of the petition was "not confusing or misleading" (Ingram, Los Angeles Times, 1/23). 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. The 1st District Court agreed to hear the case last month (California Healthline, 1/16).
Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), a sponsor of the law, said, "The court's decision was wrong. What this does is open the door for anybody to put misleading stuff on the ballot" (San Jose Mercury News, 1/23). Burton said that he might appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/23). Beth Capell, a lobbyist for Health Access, an advocacy group that supports SB 2, said, "We're very disappointed. If SB 2 is repealed, any large employer could take away health insurance of workers and their families." However, Sara Lee, vice president for media relations for the Chamber of Commerce, said, "We're ecstatic," adding, "When voters are truly aware of what [SB 2] means, they will reject it." Lee said that business groups plan to launch a campaign to educate voters about the law and help them "understand the severe impacts that this multibillion-dollar mandate will have on California jobs" (Feder Ostrov/Marimow, San Jose Mercury News, 1/23). John Dunlap, CEO of the California Restaurant Association, said that the $10 million campaign will include television ads and direct mail (Guynn, Contra Costa Times, 1/23). According to the Mercury News, a coalition of physicians, consumer groups and labor unions is expected to launch a "vigorous" campaign against the referendum (San Jose Mercury News, 1/23).
A Field Poll released Thursday found that 65% of voters support SB 2, 27% oppose it and 8% are undecided, the Orange County Register reports (Gittelsohn, Orange County Register, 1/23). Overall, the survey found that 31% of voters are aware of SB 2 (Sacramento Bee, 1/23). After those surveyed were briefed on arguments against SB 2, 53% were in favor of the law and 39% were opposed to it. The telephone poll included responses from 929 California registered voters (Orange County Register, 1/23). Mark DiCamillo of Field Research said, "What this says to me is that this is going to be a very contested initiative" (Orange County Register, 1/23). Meanwhile, Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said labor union polls show that as many as 71% of California voters support the law (Contra Costa Times, 1/23).
Additional information on SB 2 is available online.