Republican Legislators Want Additional Workers’ Compensation Reform
Republican lawmakers are using the recall election of Gov. Gray Davis (D) to "reopen the debate" over workers' compensation reform and push for cuts in the program's disability payments, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In addition to covering medical treatments for injured workers, the state workers' compensation program, which is expected to cost $25 billion next year, compensates workers for disabilities that hinder their ability to earn a living. Sen. Charles Poochigian (R-Fresno), who served on the Assembly-Senate conference committee that created the medical costs reforms, said that the Legislature should establish new rules to determine what constitutes disability. Last week, a spokesperson for Republican gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger said that if elected, Schwarzenegger would call a special session to address the issue of disability payments. However, Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley), who led the Assembly-Senate conference committee, attributed the Republicans calls for more workers' compensation reforms to "recall politics."
In related news, the Workers' Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, a not-for-profit group that gathers statistics from insurers, on Sept. 29 will present Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi (D) with actuarial estimates of the cost savings of the workers' compensation reforms passed by the Legislature earlier this month. Each $250 million in savings is supposed to justify a 1% reduction in workers' compensation premiums, the Chronicle reports. Mark Sektnan, a lobbyist for the American Insurance Association, said that the industry will observe the hearings on Sept. 29 "with great interest and will likely follow the lead'' of the premium advisory panel about workers' compensation insurance rate cuts (Abate, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21).
Summaries of an editorial and opinion piece addressing the workers' compensation reform package are provided below.
- While there is "uncertainty and turmoil" surrounding the recall campaign, Davis "still has a job to do," and one of the most important issues is signing the workers' compensation reform bills -- AB 149, AB 227, AB 698, AB 1099, AB 1262, SB 228, SB 1007 and SB 1071 -- a Chronicle editorial states. The workers' compensation program is "dragging down the economy with its unrestrained costs and skyrocketing premiums," the editorial states, concluding that Davis should sign the bills to "begin to bring this state's rules in line with national standards" (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/17).
- The reforms that Davis and Democratic legislators are pushing are "just a small step towards the real reform that is so desperately needed," Jennifer Nelson, a former policymaker in the administrations of Govs. George Deukmejian (R) and Pete Wilson (R), writes in a Chronicle opinion piece. The "major systematic changes that were needed were rejected in committee along party lines" because Democrats' "political friends" -- trial lawyers and unions -- benefit from the current "broken system," Nelson writes (Nelson, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/22).