Calif. Governor Refuses Again to Raise Benefits for Disabled Workers

October 16, 2007

For the second year in a row, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has refused to raise benefits for disabled workers that critics say were slashed too deeply by regulations his administration adopted in 2004.

The Republican governor vetoed a bill Friday by Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland, that would have doubled over three years the benefits available to workers who suffer permanent disabilities on the job. He rejected an identical measure last year.

Schwarzenegger said his administration was reviewing the changes adopted by his Division of Workers’ Compensation in 2004 to determine if any increases are need to ensure injured workers receive “appropriate benefits.”

The Perata bill, he complained in a veto message, would “arbitrarily (double) the number of weeks a person may be eligible to receive permanent disability benefits.”

“It (would) substantially increase costs for all permanent disability awards regardless of severity and without relying on empirical data to validate the increase,” he added.

The regulations changed the way doctors evaluate the severity of job-related injuries and, critics said, led to a sharp drop in benefits for workers who suffer permanent disabilities.

The state Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation, a board made up of employer and worker representatives, issued a report last year that said the regulations had cut in half the average benefit.

Sue Borg, president of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, a group of lawyers who represent injured workers, said the administration’s regulations had cut disabled California workers’ benefits to among the lowest in the nation.

“The governor’s veto pins disabled workers at the bottom of the pile,” she said. “How many more studies does he need when four independent investigations, and his own administration’s studies, have all confirmed these harsh cuts?”

The Perata bill was among a series of employment-related measures Schwarzenegger vetoed Friday, claiming they were job killers. He also vetoed:

-A measure by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, that would have given the Labor and Workforce Development Agency the authority to fine employers who willfully misclassify employees as independent contractors to avoid paying taxes or buying insurance. Schwarzenegger contended the bill could create a hostile business climate by discouraging employers from using independent contractors.

-A bill by Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, that would have required restitution for employees whose bosses engaged in fraud, misrepresentation or certain other misconduct during a lockout. Schwarzenegger claimed workers already have sufficient remedies against employer misconduct during a labor dispute.

-Legislation by Assemblyman Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, that would have allowed an injured worker to receive supplemental job displacement benefits if they had not returned to work within 60 days of a disability being ruled permanent. Schwarzenegger said the measure addressed a legitimate problem but would encourage litigation “over when the vouchers are to be issued and in what amount.”

-A measure by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, that would have given employees up to four years to file lawsuits seeking back pay and up to five years in cases in which an employer engaged in willful misconduct. Supporters said the measure would help women who suffered wage discrimination.

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