San Diego Business Journal

Davis Signs Family Leave, Stem Cell Bills
Bills Give Workers Paid Time Off for Sick Kin, Create Research 'Haven'

HEALTH CARE
by Marion Webb, Senior Staff Writer

Gov. Gray Davis recently signed legislation allowing millions of Californians to take up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave to care for a sick family member or newborn.

The bill, authored by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, provides most California workers who pay into the state disability insurance system with "partial replacement compensation" for as many as six weeks and another six weeks of unpaid leave, according to the California Healthcare Foundation.

Most workers will be paid between $50 and $499 per week with a maximum of 55 percent of their salary for six weeks, the foundation reported.

The program will be funded entirely by employees' payroll deductions averaging about $26 a year, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Labor unions and consumer groups applauded the legislation as providing much needed relief for workers to care for a loved one while benefiting employers to retain good workers.

Members of the California Chamber of Commerce, however, opposed the bill as economically damaging to businesses.

Mitch Mitchell, vice president of public policy at the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, said it's too early to tell what impact the bill will have on local businesses.

Mitchell speculated, "most small business people will be worried because of the potential costs."

According to the Los Angeles Times, payroll deductions for eligible workers , ranging up to $70 a year for people earning more than $72,000 a year , would begin in January 2004. Employees could start taking paid leaves as of July 1, 2004.

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Davis OKs Stem Cell Research: Researchers are excited about new legislation that will "make California a haven" for embryonic stem cells research, the Healthcare Foundation reported.

The legislation that will take effect Jan. 1 also puts California in direct contrast with congressional efforts supported by President George W. Bush to ban all types of stem-cell research , privately or publicly funded, the San Francisco Mercury News reported.

It remains unclear whether a federal ban would forestall California law, the newspaper reported.

Researchers have long hailed stem cells as potentially holding the key to new breakthrough therapies in various diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries, even cancer.

Stem cells, which are derived from human embryos, umbilical cords and placentas, are unique, because they can develop into hundreds of kinds of human tissue and potentially be used to grow entire organs.

The issue remains highly controversial.

Several church groups and anti-abortion groups vehemently oppose stem cell research on moral grounds, because to harvest the cells requires the destruction of human embryos.

The bill requires that all stem-cell research must be overseen by the same kinds of independent review boards that monitor most medical research.

It also requires women who are undergoing infertility treatments to give a written consent before they can donate unused embryos for research.

Larry Goldstein, a UCSD professor who uses stem cells in his research on neurological disorders, hopes the bill will "jump-start important research in California."

The bill is also likely to boost private funding for California universities by fostering new research collaborations between university scientists and biotechnology companies, he said.

Goldstein applauds California's action as being way ahead of Congressional action, which has yet to muster support for two disparate bills. One bill, authored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, would criminalize all forms of cloning, including using stem cells for medical research. President Bush supports this bill.

Another bill, co-sponsored by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, would ban reproductive cloning, or extracting someone's DNA to create a new human being, but allow therapeutic cloning.

Send health care news to mwebb@sdbj.com.