Calif. Legislators Grind Out Workers’ Comp Deal

September 15, 2003

State legislators burned the midnight oil into the early hours of this past Saturday morning to conclude a hectic year of lawmaking with final-hour decisions to reform the state’s troubled workers’ compensation system and make available health insurance to more than a million Californians.

The session was slated to wrap up Friday, however long agendas, long debates, partisan clashes and numerous caucuses kept lawmakers at work well past midnight.

The evening was not short on drama, as just before midnight, Assembly Republicans briefly marched off the floor when Democrats voted to close down debate on one apparent small measure. Republicans tried unsuccessfully to cancel debate and action on all bills at midnight but were turned down. When all was said and done, the Senate adjourned at 1:35 a.m. The Assembly finally close the doors at 3:46 a.m.

Of utmost importance to both insurance companies and state residents, legislators gave approval to a package of bills to improve the state’s troubled workers’ compensation system.

Democrats reportedly promised their reforms would trim the cost of taking care of injured workers by 20 percent and make life easier for California businesses that fund the system. Republicans, however, called the changes too minimal, saying the system was still engulfed with excessive costs.

Embattled Gov. Gray Davis has reportedly promised to sign the eight-bill package that puts a limit on the number of chiropractic and physical therapy treatments an injured worker can receive without an insurer’s permission, lowers doctors’ fees 5 percent and puts a cap on charges by pharmacies and outpatient surgery centers.

Davis, facing a recall election on Oct. 7, has until Oct. 12 to sign the bills, along with numerous others headed for his desk.

Lawmakers also passed a bill by Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, that would reportedly require employers with at least 20 employees to aid workers with health insurance.

Companies with more than 200 workers would be required to provide health insurance by 2006 and the bill would give smaller companies until 2007 to comply.

Republicans in both houses opposed the bill, carved out during the legislative session’s final days.

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