Calif. Workers’ Comp Deal Gains Support of Government

By | August 17, 2012

A workers’ compensation proposal for California is getting the backing of the Department of Industrial Relations as well as seeming endorsement from the governor’s office, although with only two weeks left in Legislative session some lawmakers are concerned there isn’t enough time to read and discuss the several hundred page proposal.

After attempting to stay out of the fray over the proposal, which has come under attack by the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, DIR Director Christine Baker reversed her policy of declining comment on pending legislation and backed the reform package.

“Representatives of labor and employers have been working vigorously to reform California’s workers’ compensation system before projected rate increases push California to a crisis situation,” Baker said in a statement. “The result of this work is a comprehensive reform proposal that protects workers and employers by improving benefits and ending wasteful litigation.”

Gov. Jerry Brown’s office on Friday offered a seeming endorsement – if not for the proposal, for the process.

“Employers and labor have made enormous progress in solving problems with the workers’ compensation system and they should stick to it,” said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for the governor.

The proposal was hammered out between labor and a small group of large, self-insured employers. Insurers weren’t at the table, and it appears state legislators were left out of the process until late in the game.

Those meetings took place over the last several months and included DIR, according to a statement from the department.

The department also met with stakeholders during a series of public forums across the state.

What came from those meetings is a nearly 300-page proposal that aims to fulfill the the need for roughly $700 million in additional permanent disability benefits for injured workers, and $1.4 billion in system wide savings.

Soon after the proposal came out CAAA sent out an email to its members earlier this week blasting the proposal, stating that “workers will get less than they do under current law.”

The proposal would cut benefits for workers including those who earn low wages, older workers and workers who can’t return to their jobs, the email states.

A hearing on the proposal was scheduled for Wednesday, but was canceled the same day the email was sent. However it’s not known why the hearing was canceled. Some have said it was due to scheduling conflicts, others say the meeting was canceled so the proposal could be reworked.

There have been reports the proposal will be put into bill form and inserted into Senate Bill 863 on workers’ comp liens, which was recently taken off the active file.

Lieu’s office, which stated the senator has not been directly involved in the talks, has indicated it’s possible the bill will be used but that hasn’t happened yet.

Meanwhile other legislators say they’ve been in the dark and they are concerned with having to deal with such a large proposal with only two weeks left in session.

“When there’s a major proposal like this in the last two weeks of the legislative session we have to be careful about taking a close look at it and making sure it’s well vetted,” said Todd Moffitt, the legislative director for Sen. Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield.

Fuller’s office organized a meeting on Tuesday with the large employers, which reportedly includes agricultural giant Grimmway Farms and Walt Disney Co., and republicans in state legislature in an effort to try and get the party some information on the proposal.

“It’s the first time we’ve actually gotten information about what’s been going on with the negotiation,” said Senator Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, who is on the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee that was scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill on Wednesday. “It’s the last few weeks of session. It’s difficult for us to really manage and look at all the details that they want reformed.”

Runner said she’ll do what’s necessary to read the bill when it’s presented and digest it, but she said she would have rather had more time, especially knowing the parties have been talking about the reforms since October.

“I just think it’s kind of a last minute effort on their part,” she said.

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