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Three things for Legislature to focus on

POL POSITION

With the Legislature having reconvened this week for its final month

of work, members would do well to put aside the political carnival

swirling around the recall of Gov. Gray Davis, and focus instead on

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critical issues important to California voters.

Voters are clearly in a mood of frustration and expect the

Legislature to work hard resolving our workers’ compensation crisis,

expanding health insurance coverage, protecting consumer privacy and

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providing some relief on the vehicle-license fee increase.

First and foremost, the Legislature must craft a set of workers’

compensation reforms that stem the skyrocketing premium increases

that are bleeding businesses, nonprofits and local governments alike

throughout the state. California employers pay more for workers’

compensation coverage than employers in any other state, yet injured

employees received some of the lowest benefits in the nation.

That’s simply not acceptable. We need meaningful reforms to

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improve the efficiency of this system, ensuring that workers are

properly treated for their injuries and that employers aren’t gouged

for insuring their employees.

Second, the Legislature needs to create a framework for turning

around the growing trend of California workers without health

insurance. Health care costs, like workers’ compensation costs, are

going through the roof, forcing all of us to foot the bill. There are

more than 6.5 million Californians -- 21% of our population -- who do

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not have health insurance, a statistic that has been rising steadily

with the soft economy.

When uninsured Californians get sick, they often use emergency

rooms as their primary-care facilities, putting off doctor visits

until their conditions become much more serious. That type of

treatment is far more expensive for the hospitals and far more

dangerous for the patients. When hospitals aren’t paid for treating

those patients who have no health insurance, they simply turn around

and pass along the costs to health insurers, who pass the costs along

to employers, who ultimately pass it along to you and me. California

taxpayers pay nearly $6 billion a year for uncompensated care. Thus,

businesses that provide health insurance are subsidizing their

competitors who do not.

A legislative conference committee headed by Sen. John Burton

(D-San Francisco) and I is considering legislation to expand

on-the-job health-care coverage and use federal health-care dollars

to assist businesses that provide health care to low-wage workers.

It is also time for this Legislature to pass a law that protects

the thousands of patients who are abruptly forced to change

physicians due to contract disputes between their HMOs and doctors.

It is unfair to force a cancer patient, a child with a chronic

illness or an expectant mother to leave a trusted physician suddenly

because their HMO has terminated its contract.

My Assembly Bill 1286 will protect patients from becoming pawns

during fights between their doctors and health plans. Gov. Davis says

signing this bill is one of his top priorities, and I hope the

Legislature will put the measure on his desk.

The Legislature also needs to reach consensus and pass legislation

to prohibit financial institutions from sharing or selling our

private financial information without our consent. The widespread

sharing and sale of personal financial information has helped fuel

the spread of identity theft, is the source of countless unsolicited

telemarketing calls and has subjected many seniors to predatory

financial schemes.

Legislation to protect consumers’ privacy has been bottled up for

three years. It’s time for the Legislature to move and pass SB 1 by

Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco).

Finally, I would like to see the Legislature find a way to halt

the steep increase in vehicle-license fees. While California

desperately needs the $4 billion in revenue that the VLF nets, it is

unfair to penalize working families and small business with the VLF

increase, while the wealthy are receiving major tax cuts.

Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg and I are working on a proposal to

halt the VLF increase, while raising the necessary revenues in a

manner that will not hurt middle-class families and small business.

It is my hope that Democrats and Republicans can come together and

agree that there are fairer ways to raise those revenues than by

balancing the budget on the backs of working Californians.

* ASSEMBLYMAN DARIO FROMMER represents the 43rd District, which

includes Burbank. He can be reached via his Web site at https://dem

ocrats.assembly.ca.gov/members/a43/ or call his Glendale district

office at 240-6330.


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