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Archive | September, 2012

SEPTEMBER 2012 NEWSLETTER

Posted on 26 September 2012 by admin

LEGISLATIVE

 

SMALL VICTORY FOR INJURED WORKERS

Even in the midst of workers’ compensation reform that looks to be detrimental to injured workers, 2012 has also netted a victory. A.B. 1145 has been passed and that is good news for injured workers.

The passage of this legislation that was carried by Voters Injured at Work allows an injured worker to access the training voucher as soon as his doctor determines his condition as permanent and stationary. Previously, an injured worker had to wait until a final disability rating determination and now this process has been sped up. Also, the uses for the voucher have been modified to include tools for education and training programs as well as for computers. These things will allow injured workers to acquire re-training much more quickly and allow them to return to the workforce faster with better skills.

The voucher will be a flat amount of $6,000 for qualifying expenses, irrespective of the permanent partial disability. Also, the timeframe for eligibility is commenced until the employer has received the medical report of disability as opposed to occurring after the termination of temporary disability benefits. If an employer makes an injured worker a job offer, the bill will ensure that the injured worker’s doctor is involved in the decision-making process to determine if he or she can return to work.

Voters Injured at Work will continue to work on legislative language to benefit injured workers during the last months of 2012 and into 2013 and beyond. California needs to heal and help its injured workers and VIAW will not cease to continue the battle to save and re-acquire injured workers’ rights that should not have been taken in 2004 or in 2012.

 

RECENT NEWS

 

WHAT DOES THE ENACTING OF S.B. 863 MEAN FOR THE INJURED WORKER?

The passage of S.B. 863 by both sides of Capitol on August 31 was a blow to injured workers across California. In what seemed like a dead monster come back to life the bill was resurrected through the lobbying of Governor Brown of legislators of both parties. The bill represented the thorough legislation that Governor Brown sought since he spoke of approving any workers’ compensation reform since the beginning of this most recent term as governor of California. For Governor Brown this bill is the complete overhaul of the ailing California workers’ compensation system and will allegedly help small businesses and injured workers.

The most damaging aspects of the bill for injured workers, according to legal analysts,
are that there will be a benefits decrease; lengthy delays in permanent disability benefits; delay and denial of access to medical care; interpreters will be put out of business and monolingual injured workers will not have access to them.

Injured workers will have their constitutional rights taken but not allowing them to choose their own medical providers and forcing them to see doctors sanctioned by their employers and insurance companies. If an injured worker does not agree with treatment protocol or has any issue with medical treatment the only recourse is an appeal via an insurance company who will strictly review medical documents and not rely on the testimony of the injured worker. Any final appeals will be decided by out-of-state doctors (an IMR) who will maintain anonymity and never hear from the injured worker. And most damaging is that there is no recourse to appeal after or a right to trial for medical treatment denials or abuse.

These are but a few of the issues and what is to come may be worse. The effects of S.B. 863 will not be truly known until it is implemented in 2013, and the Division of Industrial Relations has much work to do before this occurs.

 

FATAL OCCUPATIONAL INJURIES DECLINED IN 2011

According to a study on fatal occupational injuries, the Bureau of Labor Statistics National Census concluded that there were 4,609 deaths in 2011 which was slightly lower than in 2010 when there were 4,690 deaths. For 2011 that means an average of 13 worker deaths per day.

Secretary of Labor, Hilda L. Solis stated that it was a “step in the right direction” but that there was a way to go to ensure the safety of all workers and the Department of Labor will continue collaborations with workers, employers, safety and health personnel as well as with labor leaders.

Solis added, “At the Labor Department, we take these challenges very seriously. Each and every one of us is committed to doing what we can so that every worker can return home at the end of the day in the same condition he or she left. The workers of our nation deserve nothing less.”

(Source: Department of Labor)

HEALTH

 

THE BENEFITS OF MEDITATION

Next time that wave of anxiousness and stress is upon you maybe you should consider taking a deep breath and clearing your mind. Focusing on the breath will help to bring you back to a space of calm and tranquility.

Meditation can take different forms and it can be done anywhere and at any time with no special equipment. Though meditation has roots in spiritual traditions it is used to center one’s mind and let go of the conflicting thoughts and emotions clogging your mind and body. By discarding these thoughts and emotions the body comes to a peaceful and quiet state and the person may experience an improved physical state immediately afterward.

Continued use of meditation techniques will enhance one’s sense of balance and help them to cope with worrisome situations. Some of the benefits include:

A new perspective of a situation

Creating a foundation to help manage stress

An increased self-awareness

Connecting with the present

A reduction of harmful emotions

It is best to discuss what type of meditation will work best for you and a doctor is the best person to consult before commencing your foray into meditation. There are many types of meditation and there is one to suit you. Some of these methods are:

Yoga

Qi Gong

Tai Qi

Transcendental Meditation

No matter what type of meditation method you choose the outcome is one where you are calmer and much more free of mental anguish and distress.

*VIAW and its employees do not make medical claims and these tips should not be taken as such.

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A SMALL VICTORY FOR INJURED WORKERS

Posted on 24 September 2012 by admin

In the aftermath of the S.B. 863 debacle we have achieved a small victory for injured workers with the passing of A.B. 1145. Voters Injured at Work has been able to have a bill signed to benefit injured workers and ease their transition to return to work. The passage of this legislation that was carried by Voters Injured at Work allows an injured worker to access the training voucher as soon as his doctor determines his condition as permanent and stationary. Previously, an injured worker had to wait until a final disability rating determination and now this process has been sped up. Also, the uses for the voucher have been modified to include tools for education and training programs as well as for computers. These things will allow injured workers to acquire re-training much more quickly and allow them to return to the workforce faster with better skills.

The voucher will be a flat amount of $6,000 for qualifying expenses, irrespective of the permanent partial disability. Also, the timeframe for eligibility is commenced until the employer has received the medical report of disability as opposed to occurring after the termination of temporary disability benefits. Should an employer make a job offer this bill ensures that the injured worker’s doctor is involved in the decision on whether to return to work. A.B. 1145 protects the injured worker’s benefit by requiring that it must be done by a workers’ compensation judge.

Over the course of the S.B. 899 debacle and its avalanche of consequences for injured workers only Voters Injured at Work has been able to put through legislation for injured workers that no other organization has so far be able to do. Voters Injured at Work will continue to work on legislative language to benefit injured workers during the last months of 2012 and into 2013 and beyond. California needs to heal and help its injured workers and VIAW will not cease to continue the battle to save and re-acquire injured workers’ rights that should not have been taken in 2004 or in 2012.

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AB 2189 – Ask Governor to Sign Bi-Partisan Measure that Rewards Hard Working, Good Students

Posted on 21 September 2012 by admin


Providing Driver’s Licenses to DREAM-eligible Students Makes Sense

 

AB 2189 Vehicles: driver’s licenses (Cedillo, D-Los Angeles) would allow up to 450,000 undocumented young people in California to apply for a driver’s license if they meet all qualifications for licensure, as well as other requirements outlined in the recently implemented Federal deferred action program. Many of them qualify for relief under the Federal Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

AB 2189 is not only a matter of recognizing hard working young people who are committed to contributing to our society and participating in our economy in a positive way, but also a matter of maintaining public safety for all. Ensuring more licensed and secure drivers on our roads and highways, makes it that much safer for everyone. This important piece of legislation will provide fairness, protection, and safety to a vulnerable group of hard-working immigrants who deserve to remain in our country and who contribute their talents to our communities.

President Obama’s decision, earlier this year, stopped the deportation of DREAM Act students who meet specified criteria, such as current enrollment in school or graduation with a high school diploma or college degree, and who are willing and able to work.

Working in conjunction with the executive order to give young people temporary status in this country, as well as granting them the ability to pursue a higher education and be gainfully employed, AB 2189 would allow this particular group of young people to apply for a California’s driver’s license, if and only if, they have entered the country before they were 16 years of age and if they are, or will be, between the age of 16 and 31 before June 15, 2012. They would also be required to have lived in the country for an uninterrupted period of five years without a major criminal record.

Please click “take action” now and ask the Governor to sign AB 2189.

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Cuestionan compensaciones a lesionados en California

Posted on 20 September 2012 by admin

El gobernador Jerry Brown está a punto de convertir en ley, la SB863 una medida del senador demócrata de Los Ángeles, Kevin de León y del asambleísta demócrata de Santa Ana, José Solorio.

 

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Analistas sostienen que de convertirse en ley, la nueva medida perjudicará a los trabajadores más seriamente lesionados.

Foto: Archivo/AP

 

SACRAMENTO.- Como todos los días en su jornada laboral, Marcela Tapia caminaba apurada, cargando rollos de plásticos cada vez más pesados, hacia la máquina de empacado de verduras cuando sintió que le tronó la espalda y el dolor la paralizó.

Han pasado diez años, desde esa mañana que cambió la vida para siempre de Marcela Tapia, quien ahora tiene 46 años.

“No pude volver a trabajar. Me incapacitaron de por vida. Llevo dos cirugías en la espalda y me quieren hacer una tercera. Tengo que usar un caminador o un bastón para moverme en mi casa. Y para salir necesito una silla de ruedas. Ni que decir, el dolor es permanente”, cuenta Marcela Tapia.

Junto a la discapacidad física vinieron los problemas financieros. El sistema de compensación de los trabajadores lastimados le dio durante siete años, 557 dólares al mes. Hoy sólo le dan 60 dólares al mes, y el seguro social le entrega 393 dólares al mes por su discapacidad.

Pese a que a quienes quedan impedidos para laborar de por vida, luego de una lesión en el empleo, son compensados con poco dinero como lo demuestra el caso de Marcela Tapia, California tiene uno de los sistemas de compensación más caros del país. Los costos aumentaron de 14,800 millones de dólares a 19,000 millones de dólares en dos años.

Así que en busca de reducir sus costos, proteger a los negocios, y evitar más pleitos en las cortes, el gobernador Jerry Brown está a punto de convertir en ley, la SB863, una medida del senador demócrata de Los Ángeles, Kevin de León y del asambleísta demócrata de Santa Ana, José Solorio.

Según los autores de la medida, a partir de 2013, habrá en promedio un 30% de incremento en todos los beneficios para las personas permanentemente discapacitadas en todas las categorías.

El aumento es posible al reducir costos administrativos por 1,000 millones de dólares.

Al mismo tiempo, la inminente ley detiene los aumentos constantes de los montos que pagan los empleadores.

Crea además un programa por 120 millones de dólares para ayudar al grupo de trabajadores cuya compensación es desproporcionadamente baja comparado con lo que dejaron de ganar por la lesión.

Y previene demandas al establecer un sistema médico independiente de evaluación basado en usar evidencias médicas para resolver disputas, lo que ahorrará también dinero al sistema, 152 millones de dólares.

“En el papel, esta legislación parece muy buena, pero en la práctica, desafortunadamente reduce los beneficios de discapacidad a los trabajadores más seriamente lesionados, y les hará más difícil obtener el tratamiento médico que necesita”, dijo Bret Graham, presidente de LatinoComp, una organización no lucrativa de abogados que defienden a los trabajadores lesionados, médicos e intérpretes.

Añadió que el impacto en la comunidad latina será muy fuerte, ya que en promedio ganan al año 30,000 dólares en los empleos más pesados y más peligrosos.

“Los trabajadores serán obligados a sobrevivir de la asistencia pública, la discapacidad del seguro social o la caridad de sus familias o iglesias”, indicó.

Jesse Cisneros, de VotersinjuredWork.org, otro grupo defensor de los trabajadores lastimados criticó la reforma porque dijo se hizo para favorecer a las corporaciones con el apoyo de algunos sindicatos.

“Se trata de una medida negociada en secreto y llevada con premura a la legislatura en los últimos días del ciclo legislativo, promovida como un aumento en los beneficios que en realidad reduce los beneficios de los lastimados”, anotó.

El senador De León refutó los señalamientos en contra de su propuesta de ley. “Yo defiendo los intereses de los trabajadores latinos y no haría nada que los lastimara. En cambio quienes se oponen son gente que lucra en los juicios con los trabajadores lesionados como los abogados y médicos que quieren seguir manteniendo el control de un sistema fracturado”, afirmó.

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AM Alert: Governor scheduled to sign workers comp bill

Posted on 18 September 2012 by admin

The Sacramento Bee

CapitolAlert ®

AM Alert: Governor scheduled to sign workers comp bill

The day starts with another – make that two more – bill signing ceremonies for Gov. Jerry Brown, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, who will be in the south state trumpeting SB 863. The bill makes major changes to California’s workers compensation system by eliminating areas that are subject to a lot of litigation, cutting costs for employers and increasing benefits to permanently injured workers. It was negotiated among labor union leaders and some of the state’s major employers, who are expected to be on hand for the signing ceremonies.

The first one is at a San Diego printing company at 9:30 a.m. Then the group heads to Burbank for a 2 p.m. signing at the Disney studios, a company that played a role in negotiating the bill.

CALLING AN AD AN AD? Political bloggers, tweeters and comment-posters may want to tune in to the Fair Political Practices Commission today. It’s taking comment on a new proposal aimed at informing the public when campaign funds are used to pay for blog posts and social media use. The idea has drawn ire from bloggers on both ends of the political spectrum.

FISHIN’ FOR TUITION California State University trustees are meeting today in Long Beach to take on some fiscal what-ifs. What if the governor’s tax initiative passes? What if it fails, and the state cuts CSU by $250 million? If voters approve Proposition 30 in November, CSU is planning to refund students the 9 percent tuition increase they are paying this semester. If it fails, a contingency plan trustees are considering today calls for increasing tuition by 5 percent in January.

Cal State trustees are also considering several new fees unrelated to the outcome of Proposition 30: $372 per unit for “super seniors” who keep taking classes even though they have enough units to graduate; $100 per unit for repeating classes; and $200 per unit for taking an extra-large course load of 17 units or more. The university estimates it could generate $35 million a year with those combined fees.

DEATH PENALTY: Under the dome, the joint Public Safety Committee will hold a 10 a.m. hearing on Proposition 34, which calls for repealing the death penalty in California and replacing it with life without parole. Opponents of the measure are holding a campaign kick-off event later in the afternoon, with Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, former NFL player and crime victim advocate Kermit Alexander and San Mateo County DA Steve Wagstaffe.

 

Want The Latest from Capitol Alert on your mobile device? Check out our mobile site.

 

Got a news tip? Send it our way at tvanoot@sacbee.com.

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Gov. Brown used political muscle to revive workers’ comp bill

Posted on 10 September 2012 by admin

By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times

September 8, 2012

SACRAMENTO — A controversial workers’ compensation overhaul bill was all but dead last week. Then Gov. Jerry Brown stepped in.

In less than 24 hours — on Aug. 31, the final day of the Legislature’s session — Brown showed what decades of political experience can deliver on deadline. To rescue the massive package, he came up

with a pot of extra money to help the most seriously injured workers. He personally met with recalcitrant state senators in his office and in the suite of Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) that morning. And to break the ice, he brought along Sutter, his brown-and-white Welsh Pembroke corgi.

The face-to-face lobbying was intense. He reminded Democrats about the 170-page bill’s benefits for injured workers, and Republicans were warned that without the bill, businesses faced up to 18% increases in workers’ compensation insurance. Brown got the votes he needed. By the end of the night, he had racked up unusually large, bipartisan majorities for the bill, SB 863, first in the state Assembly and finally in the Senate.

“There was a reluctance in part of the Legislature to take care of this. Many of them were not engaged,” Brown said in a telephone interview Friday as he recounted the turnaround

“It was a tall hill … and I was able to bring it around,” he said.

The $17-billion-a-year workers’ compensation system is one of the biggest social insurance programs operated by the state. It covers practically every one of California’s 14.4 million employees working for 864,000 companies, governments and nonprofit organizations. Each year about 500,000 claims are filed, with about 1 in 8 qualifying for permanent disability benefits.

The workers’ compensation package emerged in public view late in the legislative session after months of negotiation between representatives of labor and large employers — with the blessing of the Brown administration.

In the last few weeks of the session, supporters built a coalition. At the same time, the opponents — who were shut out of early talks — began to rally opposition.

Remarkably, the bill’s entire legislative history amounted to three days of nonstop ups and downs last week. Its first legislative hearing occurred that Tuesday, and the bill cleared that Friday.

Brown’s potential troubles heightened early in that last week. The bill was being pummeled by lobbyists for groups whose members earn their livelihoods from the medical-legal bureaucracy that works with injured workers. They included lawyers, outpatient surgical centers, medical equipment manufacturers, chiropractors and drug dispensers, lobbying legislators in force.

Following a Thursday evening caucus meeting, Steinberg told a top administration official flat out that the proposal was in trouble. It wouldn’t get out of the Senate, he said, because it didn’t have enough votes from members of the Democratic majority.

One of Brown’s closest advisors, Labor and Workforce Development Agency Secretary Marty Morgenstern, warned the governor that the agreement was in jeopardy. “I was skeptical we could get it through the Senate,” Morgenstern said he told the governor.

“Let me try,” Brown replied, according to Morgenstern.

Brown’s efforts “were the key” to moving the bill, opposition leader Jesse Ceniceros, president of Voters Injured at Work, confirmed. “I honestly think it was influential what he did.”

Morgenstern and other key administration officials described the dizzying ups and downs of the bill in an interview with The Times on Friday.

The agreement that eventually emerged is expected to provide $740 million a year in new benefits for permanently disabled workers, starting next year, while reducing overall medical and compensation costs by 4%, said Christine Baker, the director of the state Department of Industrial Relations, who is a 27-year veteran of dealing with workplace regulation and laws.

Last-minute negotiations also created a special $120-million annual fund to provide extra benefits to people who have been catastrophically hurt and cannot return to their jobs.


Baker began work on the package last spring, first meeting separately with union officials and employers before bringing the two sides together.

Participants in the closed-door meetings included the California Labor Federation, the firefighters’ union, the state Building Trades Council, the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters.

Sitting across from them were representatives of Walt Disney Co., Safeway Inc., Southern California Edison, UPS Inc., organic produce grower Grimmway Farms and a special government authority that provides insurance for public schools.

“We had union and nonunion, public and private” employers, Baker said. The combination of labor and management, plus the clout and persuasiveness of the governor, created a “phenomenal” alignment of the political stars, she said.

 

But selling that initial agreement took more than just the governor’s intervention, said Brown’s executive secretary, Nancy McFadden. In a series of separate meetings with labor unions and business groups, McFadden said, she “made it clear that the governor is willing to put his muscle behind the bill,” but only if the interested parties “fight for it and defend it.”

Now that the bill has passed and is awaiting the governor’s signature, the Brown administration is starting to work on crafting the rules and regulations needed to make it work.

“We want to get this done so its effect is immediate,” Morgenstern said. “We can’t realize the savings promised unless it’s done quickly.”

 


marc.lifsher@latimes.com

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

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California workers’ compensation overhaul bill races the clock

Posted on 10 September 2012 by admin

With just three days left in the legislative session, California lawmakers begin consideration of a 170-page bill to overhaul the state workers’ compensation system.

By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times

August 29, 2012

SACRAMENTO — With just three days left in this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers got a dose of the strong emotions swirling through the Capitol for and against a plan to overhaul California’s century-old workers’ compensation insurance program.

The bill formally introduced Friday seeks to increase benefits for injured workers while cutting medical and legal costs to avoid an estimated 12.6% hike in premiums facing employers in January.

At issue is a 170-page bill to revise the $17-billion system to protect injured workers that is only now beginning a fast and furious trip through the Legislature. The revisions could affect nearly every one of the state’s 14.4 million employees and 864,000 employers.

“This bill is good for workers and employers and good for California,” Christine Baker, director of the state Department of Industrial Relations, told the Assembly Insurance Committee at a crowded first informational hearing Tuesday morning.

Leading the opposition is an activist group of injured workers, backed by the lawyers who represent them before workers’ compensation judges and a variety of medical practitioners, including chiropractors, surgeons, pain specialists and other providers of medical and legal services.

“We can’t establish a drive-through medical system,” said Jesse Ceniceros, president of Voters Injured at Work. “We need to slow down.”

Testimony by Ceniceros and other opponents was repeatedly interrupted by applause from supporters and was

quickly ruled out of order by the committee chairman.

Backers of the compromise bill, who crafted the deal behind closed doors over months, urged swift action. The bill technically is on the Assembly floor and could be debated and voted upon at any time.

The main negotiators — the California Labor Federation and large employers, including Walt Disney Co. and Safeway Inc. — want to fix flaws in the last big rewrite of the law in 2004. The goal is to boost benefits for disabled workers and cut soaring medical and legal costs for employers before already rising medical and legal costs get out of control and force employers to lay off workers.

 

“Eight years have passed since injured workers were royally screwed” by a 60% cut in permanent disability benefits, said Angie Wei, a lobbyist for the California Labor Federation. “Finally, we have a plan to do something about it … to return money back to the pockets of injured workers.”

If the Legislature fails to act, insurers might need to raise rates at least 12.6% beginning in January to keep up with rising costs of claims, according to a recent report to the state Department of Insurance by the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, an industry-supported actuary.

 

The bill’s prospects remain uncertain. Whether it gains traction and makes its way through the Legislature before Friday night’s adjournment is iffy, acknowledged the bill’s author, Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles). “We’re at the first stage politically of it being thoroughly vetted by all the parties,” he said.

De Leon’s chances have been bolstered by support from Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor’s office is “fully engaged,” said Mark Sektnan, a lobbyist for the Assn. of California Insurance Companies. As a result, he predicted, the bill has a 60% chance of passing this year “because there’s an understanding that something needs to be done.”

Insurers so far have taken no public position on the workers’ comp proposal, SB 863. Nor have some of the mainstream California business trade groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce. Nevertheless, a number of smaller employers, particularly building contractors, stood in line at the Insurance Committee hearing to put their support for lower rates on record.

If it becomes law, the overhaul would raise benefits for permanently disabled victims of on-the-job accidents and illnesses by $740 million, proponents said. However, there is disagreement about whether the increased benefits would be paid for by money-saving provisions in the bill.

Estimated savings in the bill range from a high of more than $1 billion a year to a low of $100 million by making workers’ compensation more efficient, reducing legal disputes and eliminating fraud.

 

At the hearing, opponents contended that the bill would reduce permanent partial disability benefits for many low-wage workers, particularly compensation for workers suffering from mental problems, sexual dysfunction and insomnia. It also would make it harder to get access to adequate medical care, they said.

The proposed law provides “benefits if you break your back — but not if you break your mind,” Dr. Robert Larsen, an occupational psychiatrist from San Francisco, said at the hearing.

 


Rushing this legislation this week is a mistake, opponents said. Next year’s legislative session is time enough to carefully write a bill that has no unintended consequences, they argued.

“Workers’ compensation reform is too important to delegate to union leaders or to pass without time for public analysis and comment,” said Jeffrey Kavin, the owner of Greenblatt’s Deli in Hollywood.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

 

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California workers’ compensation bill faces difficulties

Posted on 10 September 2012 by admin

By Marc Lifsher

August 27, 2012, 3:41 p.m.

 

SACRAMENTO — Advocates for low-income injured workers and the attorneys who represent them are furiously rejecting a proposed overhaul of the state’s complex, costly workers’ compensation insurance system.

“We oppose this last-minute rush to jam through workers’ compensation legislation that further reduces disability compensation and access to medical care,” said Jesse Ceniceros, president of VotersInjuredatWork.org.

The mammoth bill was negotiated behind closed doors over months by the California Labor Federation and large, self-insured employers, including Safeway Inc. and Walt Disney Co.

The 170-page bill was officially introduced in the state Legislature only late last Friday. Proponents argued that it provides about $700 million a year in new benefits to victims of on-the-job accidents. Money to pay for the boost would come out of an estimated $1 billion-plus in savings created by making the $16-billion system more efficient.

But an actuarial report released Monday that was commissioned by the administration of Gov. Jerry Brown questioned the level of predicted savings.

The Workers’ Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau, a statistical agency financed by the insurance industry, concluded that savings generated by the overhaul would be only $400 million, which is $300 million less than the cost of the hike in benefits.

The rating bureau, however, cautioned that it lacked sufficient information, time and expertise to fully evaluate the costs of the proposed workers’ compensation bill, SB 863 by Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles).

The proposal will be subject to an informational hearing in the Legislature on Tuesday morning. The bill to become law must be passed before the Legislature adjourns just before midnight Friday.

ALSO:

California Legislature sets ambitious agenda for last week of session

Brown backs overhaul of workers’ compensation

Workers’ comp deal faces fierce opposition

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

 

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Brown backs overhaul of workers’ compensation

Posted on 10 September 2012 by admin

The governor supports a compromise that would streamline the system, allowing a $750-million increase in benefits to permanently disabled workers.

By Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times

August 17, 2012, 5:27 p.m.

SACRAMENTO — The drive is on to overhaul California’s $16-billion workers’ compensation system by month’s end, and it has picked up a key endorsement from Gov. Jerry Brown.

Although California business and labor negotiators have drafted a compromise agreement, the plan still faces some tough obstacles in the days ahead as it moves through the Legislature. On Friday, legislative leaders were cautious about endorsing the workers’ comp changes and far from enthusiastic about the package’s prospects.

“We will certainly consider any proposal that raises benefits for permanently injured workers,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). “Before voting on a comprehensive package in these last two weeks of session, we need to scrutinize any proposal closely and ensure that significant groups of injured workers aren’t harmed.”

Assembly Speaker John Pérez is heartened by the labor-business cooperation, a spokeswoman said, but limited his comments to saying “it’s something worth considering.”

Passage of a workers’ compensation bill would be the first comprehensive revision of the law since 2004, and it aims to provide improved benefits for injured workers without raising premiums and costs paid by hundreds of thousands of small and large businesses, government agencies and other employers throughout the state.

The system covers 14.4 million employees and is supported by insurance premiums and direct payments from 864,000 employers. In 2010, the system provided medical care and compensation to about 530,000 victims of job-related injuries or illnesses.

Also on Friday, an all-day meeting was held at the Sacramento office of the governor’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency in which supporters sought to build support for the 280-page proposal and calm concerns that benefit cuts may be part of the package.

Word of the governor’s support came late Thursday, when Brown’s Department of Industrial Relations, the agency that runs the workers’ compensation system, released a statement saying that the administration was backing a proposal negotiated by unions and large employers. The statement was unusual because Democrat Brown and his administration typically don’t signal the governor’s position on a bill until it’s signed or vetoed.

“Representatives of labor and employers have been working vigorously to reform California’s workers’ compensation system before projected rate increases push California to a crisis situation,” agency Director Christine Baker said. “The result of this work is a comprehensive reform proposal that protects workers and employers by improving benefits and ending wasteful litigation.”

The overhaul, if it becomes law, would boost benefits to permanently disabled workers by an estimated $750 million that would be financed by $1.3 billion in savings created by changes in the law aimed at making the system more efficient and less litigious, Baker said.

Streamlining the state’s cumbersome workers’ compensation system, which includes dozens of special courts around the state, could have a major effect on virtually every California worker and boss.

Getting the last-minute proposal through the Democrat-controlled Legislature will be a challenge, lawmakers say. The details of the plan are only now leaking out and subject to change. The Assembly and Senate must act on a bill by Aug. 31 — two weeks away.

Already, opponents are sniping at the package, led by lawyers who represent injured workers. For the last week, the California Applicants’ Attorneys Assn. and a related group, Voters Injured at Work, have been tying up lawmakers’ phones with calls denouncing the emerging compromise put together by a handful of large employers, the Brown administration and the California Labor Federation.

Voters Injured at Work President Jesse Ceniceros said his organization fears that the proposal would drastically reduce the healthcare options and legal recourse available to people injured on the job.

The attorneys and Ceniceros argue that the proposed changes in permanent disability benefits would have unintended consequences and would take money out of the pockets of many injured workers. Friday’s negotiations are aimed at calming the opponents’ fears that benefits might be cut, participants said.

Still, the opponents face formidable foes if California’s potent labor and business lobbyists unite behind a package with Brown’s support. The workers’ compensation deal came out of months of talks between labor and negotiators for Safeway Inc., the Walt Disney Co., UPS, Kern County organic carrot grower Grimmway Farms and some public school districts.

In the last week, the talks expanded to include the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Manufacturers and Technology Assn., insurance companies and trade groups such as the California Retailers Assn. and the California Restaurants Assn.

Insurers, though they haven’t formally endorsed the plan, said that, so far, they have found little to object to in the compromise. Manufacturers said they would support any proposal with “proven cost savings” and anticipated taking a formal position on the measure next week, when it’s expected to be formally introduced in the Legislature. The chamber also has not taken a formal position on the package either.

marc.lifsher@latimes.com

Copyright © 2012, Los Angeles Times

 

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