Brown signs bill revamping workers’ compensation insurance

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A major overhaul of California’s $17-billion workers’ compensation insurance program was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, who called the bipartisan agreement “unusual in our polarized society.”

The governor made his comments Tuesday at a bill signing ceremony at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank surrounded by some of the legislative, business and labor leaders who helped forge the consensus that led to the legislation. On hand were Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles).

“Whether it’s Washington or Sacramento, there are two sides. Well, today we’re one side, and that one side is helping bring down the cost to businesses while increasing benefits to injured workers. It’s something that’s really important,” the governor said.

Approved by the Legislature on the last night of the legislative session, the package would boost payments to permanently disabled victims of on-the-job accidents by about $740 million a year and hand employers a major break on workers’ compensation insurance premiums.

The legislation “represents a major victory for working people and employers alike in California,” Pérez said.

Brown played a pivotal role in final approval of the bill Aug. 31. After prospects for the bill’s passage began to dim, the governor personally lobbied legislators and came up with an extra $120 million a year to aid victims of catastrophic accidents who can’t return to work.

The bill’s passage was “a real testament to Brown’s capabilities of bringing both sides together,” said Jill Dulich, who heads the workers’ compensation claims division of Marriott International.

Without the new law, businesses faced an almost 18% increase in workers’ comp insurance premiums when they renewed their policies, a fact that helped persuade opponents to eventually support the bill. An agreement was struck with Brown’s help to allow the extra $120 million in benefits and to reduce overall medical and compensation costs 4%.

Steinberg called the bill “a big deal because it dramatically improves the plight of injured workers, while at the same time it ensures cost stability for California’s employers.”

Injured workers would also benefit from the streamlined process, which aims to provide them with medical treatment within 30 days of their injuries, instead of spending months in litigation.

A UC Berkeley Survey Research Center study found that permanent disability benefits dropped from an average of $25,000 per injured worker in 2004 to an average of $12,000 last year.