While injured worker advocates and attorneys have loudly called upon Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation hiking benefit payouts to injured workers, a state agency has very quietly been laying the groundwork for a smaller increase in permanent disability payouts.


The state Division of Workers' Compensation made public last week that it's preparing a regulation that would hike permanent disability benefits about 10 percent starting next spring, according to spokeswoman Susan Gard.


The move follows a study that the division conducted earlier this year that found permanent disability payouts fell 40 percent after the 2004 reforms enacted by Schwarzenegger and the Legislature.


"The study found that the gap between benefits paid out and future wages lost had grown because the benefits are lower. This increase will help close that gap," Gard said.


So far, employer groups have been muted in their objections, preferring this slight increase to a more drastic one that hit Schwarzenegger's desk. SB 936, authored by Senate President Don Perata, D-Oakland, would essentially double permanent disability benefit payouts over three years. The California Manufacturers and Technology Association said it is willing to discuss changes in benefit levels, though it does have a problem with the methodology used to calculate future wages lost due to injury.


But labor and applicant attorney representatives have said the proposed increase is way too small; they are pushing for the division to hike benefit payouts up to 50 percent.


The manufacturer association said whatever the final proposal, it will "definitely result in increased cost to the employer." How much that increase will be will depend on how insurance companies factor this into their premium calculations.


Schwarzenegger has been expected to veto SB 936, but had not done so as of press time.


More Engine Limits

The South Coast Air Quality Management District has proposed tougher emission limits and more record-keeping for the operators of roughly 800 stationary engines in L.A., Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. The engines are commonly found in major generators and are also used to power manufacturing equipment.


"Unannounced emission tests by AQMD enforcement staff have discovered that about half of the stationary engines tested were out of compliance with their emissions limits, due to poor operating and maintenance procedures and inadequate monitoring," agency staff said in a memo to the air quality control agency's board.


The revisions to a longstanding regulation call for more detailed record keeping of emissions from these engines. They also include further reductions in emission limits for ozone and particulate matter to match recently enacted federal and state standards for these substances.


The agency board is set to consider the revisions early next year.


New Tobacco Crackdown

In an attempt to crack down on tobacco sales to minors, L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas brought forward a motion last week to require vendors selling tobacco products who open shops within 1,000 feet of a school, park or library to go through a public hearing process to obtain a special permit.


Essentially, Cardenas' proposed ordinance would treat the process of getting city permission to sell tobacco products near these facilities the same as the process now in place for alcohol sales.


"To date, there are no zoning provisions that regulate the sale of tobacco products around our kids and that's going to change," Cardenas said.


The City Council last week directed the city planning department to craft an ordinance and bring it back to the council later this year.


This is the latest in a series of moves the city has taken to crack down on tobacco sales to minors. Last year, the council approved hikes in the permit fees tobacco retailers must pay; the increased funds went to fund more inspectors to track down illegal sales of tobacco products to minors.


One tobacco store owner said she supports the move to make new tobacco vendors locating near schools go through extra hoops. But Barri Hoover, owner of the Pale Fire store in Eagle Rock, said she would rather see the city more aggressively go after people selling cheap "black market" imported cigarettes.


"The way they are going about doing this probably won't yield the results that they want," Hoover said.


Correction:

In the last Regulation Watch column (Oct. 1), the status of regulating acrylamides was misstated due to an incorrect summary provided by the California Manufacturers and Technology Association. The chemical has been listed under Proposition 65 for several years; state officials are now looking at whether establishments that sell or serve deep fried foods containing acrylamides must post Proposition 65 warning signs.


Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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