Workers’ Compensation Reform Unlikely by March 1, Democratic Leaders Say
Democratic leaders on Wednesday said that legislation to reform the state workers' compensation system is "unlikely to pass" before the March 1 deadline set by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in his state of the state address Tuesday, the Sacramento Bee reports (Chan, Sacramento Bee, 1/8). During his 27-minute State of the State, Schwarzenegger asked lawmakers to pass workers' compensation reform legislation by March 1, adding, "If modest reform is all that lands on my desk, ... I am prepared to take my workers' comp solution to the people. It will be on the November ballot" (California Healthline, 1/7). As part of his "California Recovery Plan," Schwarzenegger in November proposed cutting up to $11.3 billion in funds from the state's $29 billion workers' compensation program, under which employers pay $5.85 per $100 of payroll -- the highest rate in the nation -- for coverage. Schwarzenegger's plan includes measures that would prohibit workers from receiving multiple disability payments for the same injury; require dispute resolution more frequently to reduce litigation costs; limit penalties paid by insurers and employers in medical bill disputes; and establish uniform standards for permanent disability (California Healthline, 1/6).
Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley) said, "The only firm deadline we have for the legislative session is the end of August," adding that if Schwarzenegger puts a workers' compensation reform package on the ballot, "it diminishes our ability to get good work on workers' compensation (reform)." Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) said that Schwarzenegger's March 1 deadline is "totally unrealistic." Art Azevedo, head of the California Applicants' Attorneys Association, said that he is "dismayed by ... Schwarzenegger's attitude" and will advise lawmakers "to leave his proposal on the table." However, Sen. Charles Poochigian (R-Fresno) said that Schwarzenegger's deadline is "fair warning to the Legislature," the Bee reports. Poochigian added, "If the motivation of the critics is to undermine bold, comprehensive reforms, then that's where that March 1 deadline becomes very relevant." Allan Zaremberg, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, said, "There now will be a consequence for the Legislature turning a deaf ear to businesses crying for relief." Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi (D) agreed with Poochigian that reform could be passed by March 1, saying, "These issues have been discussed for years. It can get done" (Sacramento Bee, 1/8). However, Garamendi added that Schwarzenegger's goal of cutting $11 billion from the system is "unrealistic" and that the bill Schwarzenegger supports "just doesn't work," the AP/San Diego Union-Tribune reports. Garamendi said that Schwarzenegger's proposed reforms, which are sponsored by Poochigian in the Senate, have "very serious constitutional issues" and "contradictions in the way [they were] put together" (Lawrence, AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.