Last year, the state Legislature approved SB-320, a workers’ compensation “reform” bill that was pushed through the legislative process with virtually no input from California businesses. Under SB-320, workers’ comp benefits would have increased $2.1 billion, and been accompanied by equally massive premiums for businesses.
Fortunately, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed SB-320.
This year, state lawmakers are again looking at workers’ comp reform, but , as reported in the article on Page 30, this time business is certain to have its say. The Democratic majority knows SB-996, the new proposed workers’ comp law, won’t pass the governor’s desk unless California businesses sign onto it first.
It’s easy to understand what injured workers and their attorneys want , greater benefits. SB-996 does contain an increase in benefits, though with the bill currently in conference, the exact amount is still up in the air.
But what does business want? Lower costs, certainly. Yet business leaders already know the cost of workers’ comp insurance is going up, if for no other reason than a nearly 19 percent increase in the state advisory rate that went into effect earlier this year.
Nor are businesses interested in thwarting attempts to increase benefits, as long as it’s done reasonably.
What business wants to see in workers’ comp reform is something less tangible but still vitally important to the future health of both the workers’ comp system and the state’s economy.
Business wants fairness.
According to the California Chamber of Commerce, employers want four basic changes in workers’ comp. They want to see their responsibilities and liabilities under the law clearly laid out. They want a system free of fraud. They want to see workers healed, properly and fairly compensated, and returned to work. And, finally, they want litigation kept to a minimum.
What employers face today, says the statewide chamber, is a complex workers’ comp system rife with fraud, cases that drag on for years, permanent disability payments for injuries that aren’t permanent, mounds of paperwork, and litigation that requires each side to hire networks of attorneys.
No one wants to see injured workers cast out into the cold, unable to support themselves or their families. Yet no one wants to see companies forced out of business due to sky-high premiums, lawyer bills and a never-ending trial of litigation.
As legislators of both parties meet in conference on SB-996, they should be mindful that in the end workers and employers need each other, and fairness to all should prevail.