Business won some and lost some in the just-completed legislative session, but the final tally won't be seen until later this month as Gov. Pete Wilson considers whether to sign the measures into law or exercise his veto.
Business groups are pushing Wilson to turn thumbs down on AB 1100, which would require health plans to cover severe mental illness, and SB 1909, which would hike state unemployment insurance.
The National Federation of Independent Business issued a statement last week saying AB 1100 would hike health care premiums by up to 10 percent.
"How much mental illness coverage to provide should be left up to the employer, just as physical health care coverage is," said Shirley Knight, assistant state director for the NFIB.
Proponents, including the bill's author, Assemblywoman Helen Thompson, D-Davis, countered that premiums would not increase.
Knight said the NFIB did support another bill that would allow more businesses to qualify for the state's small-business health pool. Currently, companies with two to 50 employees qualify; this bill would allow self-employed persons to qualify.
Business groups also want Wilson to veto SB 1909, saying the increased unemployment insurance costs will be borne by employers.
Passage of SB 1909 was a victory for organized labor, which also saw legislation passed that would increase state disability benefit levels and that would ban employers from requiring employees to resolve workplace disputes through arbitration.
"Labor had an ambitious agenda," said Elizabeth Ecks, a lobbyist for the California Labor Federation. "We did manage to put a number of bills on Gov. Wilson's desk that will protect workers' rights. We are hopeful that he will sign these bills."
Even so, labor's top initiatives reinstatement of daily overtime pay, higher wages and benefits for part-time workers and increased benefits for injured workers were all defeated in the Legislature.
"This was a moderately good session from the business perspective," said Fred Main, vice president of the California Chamber of Commerce and a co-chair of the Coalition for California Jobs, a business advocacy group. "Of the 63 bills we defined as 'job-killers,' 52 were defeated. Eleven went to the governor, yet even those were not the worst of the worst."
In addition, two other measures passed by the Legislature this year are expected to have a business impact: the $1 billion cut in vehicle license fees and the $9.2 billion school bond that will be placed on the Nov. 3 ballot.
"About one-third of the vehicle license fees are paid by businesses that have fleets and company cars, so a cut in the vehicle license tax will help these businesses," said Gavin McHugh, a lobbyist with the California Manufacturers Association and a co-chair of the Coalition for California Jobs, a business advocacy group.
Business interests also lobbied hard for the school bond measure, which they see as necessary for producing a better-trained workforce. California Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg plans to sign the ballot argument in favor of the bond measure, which is the largest in state history.
On the health care front, which was initially expected to be the dominant issue in the Legislature, the insurance lobby stopped several bills that would have imposed major reforms on the industry.
At the beginning of the session, more than 100 bills were introduced aimed at bringing additional regulation to the HMO industry. Several bills would have given patients increased powers to sue their health plans; others would have required HMOs to allow patients to seek second opinions and even treatment outside of their health plans.
In the end, only a handful of HMO-reform bills made it out of the Legislature. Among these: a measure allowing the critically ill to get a second opinion from an outside source and a pair of bills that require health plans to publish lists of covered drugs for their members.
However, the big-ticket item pushed by consumer and some medical practitioner groups, liability for treatment decisions made by HMOs, was defeated.
"The Legislature let us down," said Andrew Pontious, an advocate for patients' rights at Consumers for Quality Care. "The consumers lost out this year. Until consumers get the right to sue and HMOs have a reason to be accountable, we believe consumers will continue to lose out."
Assemblyman Martin Gallegos, D-Los Angeles, who chairs the Assembly's Health Committee, echoed the same sentiment.
"The public is going to have to continue without these rights for another year," said Gallegos. "Health plans will be able to skate by for a little longer. But this is not the end of it."
HMO lobbyists, while pleased about the defeat of the HMO liability bills, are reserving judgment until they see whether Wilson will sign or veto the few HMO reform bills that did make it to his desk.
Staff Reporter Jessica Toledano contributed to this story.
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