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Business Could Be Paying the Bills if Legislature Has Its Way



BY HOWARD FINE

Business interests are once again playing defense in Sacramento as dozens of bills that could harm businesses have cleared a key deadline.

Bills that would require businesses to provide or pay for employee health care, increase workers’ compensation benefits paid to injured workers and regulate the amount of chemicals used in their products all passed their houses of origin by the June 8 deadline.

Also moving forward were bills to place fees on each shipping container entering the state’s major ports and limit, or tightly regulate, many new housing developments.

While the bills are fewer in number than last year, business lobbyists say they could still wreak considerable damage to employer pocketbooks.

“There are not as many bills as we expected to be dealing with, but the bills this year pose more of a threat to employers than in most previous years,” said Michael Shaw, legislative director for the California chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Topping the list are two health care reform bills carried by the leader of each chamber, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu & #324;ez, D-Los Angeles, and Senate President Don Perata, D-Oakland.

Both Assembly Bill 8 and Senate Bill 48 would require employers to provide health care for their employees or pay an “in lieu” fee of 7.5 percent of payroll to the state.

The proceeds would then be used to help pay for coverage for the uninsured.

“It’s SB 2 all over again,” Shaw said, referring to a bill four years ago that required employers to provide health care for their employees or pay a to-be-determined amount to a state fund.

That bill was signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis days before he was recalled from office; the next year, business groups placed a referendum on the law on the ballot and waged a successful campaign to overturn it.


Governor’s Plan

This time, though, there’s a competing proposal on the table from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, which would set the employer fee at 4 percent of payroll while also requiring insurers, hospitals and medical groups to pay their own fees into the system.

Schwarzenegger’s plan suffered a setback recently when legislative counsel Linda Dozier ruled that the fees on insurers and health care providers are involuntary and thus are taxes that need two-thirds approval from the Legislature to pass.

Negotiations over the various health care bills are expected to intensify during the closing week of the legislative session later this summer.

Legislative leaders Nu & #324;ez and Perata are also moving forward a pair of bills that would increase workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers. Perata’s SB 936 would effectively double permanent partial disability payments, while Nu & #324;ez’s AB 1212 would require the head of the state Division of Workers’ Compensation to determine how much to raise permanent partial disability payments.

Another bill , SB 942, by Carole Migden, D-San Francisco , would allow injured workers to sue their employers under anti-discrimination laws if their claims are denied or they deem their benefits inadequate.

Employers contend all of these bills would roll back the 2003 and 2004 reforms that have sliced workers’ compensation premiums in half for most businesses.


Howard Fine is a reporter for the Los Angeles Business Journal, a sister publi & #173;cation to the San Diego Business Journal.

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