State regulators have proposed new rules for posting toxic chemical warning notices in workplaces and other public places, stirring opposition from a coalition of chemical industry and business groups that contend the rules will spur a new round of frivolous lawsuits.

The warnings that toxic chemicals are present at these facilities or in manufactured products are required under the state’s landmark Proposition 65, a measure approved by voters in 1986. The list of chemicals that triggers the posting requirement runs 23 pages long and includes more than 800 chemicals. If a business fails to post a warning notice, it can be sued by an outside party.

Now, the notices only require a generic message that chemicals known to cause cancer or other illnesses are present on the premises or in manufactured products. But that could change under the new regulations put forward by the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment; they will be up for consideration by that agency later this year.

The new rules list 12 commonly used chemicals deemed toxic by the state and require that if any of those chemicals are present at a facility or in a manufactured product, it be identified by name in the warning label. For other chemicals, the standard Proposition 65 warning will still suffice.

The idea is to give the public and employees more information on chemicals they encounter at these facilities and to make the warnings more consistent, the agency said.

But a coalition of 76 industry groups and two corporations – one of which, specialty chemicals company Sika Group of Switzerland, has its U.S. headquarters in Santa Fe Springs – sent a letter to the agency opposing the new rules, arguing they would provide yet another avenue for frivolous lawsuits.

“It is easy to envision how (the) list of specific chemicals that must be identified in warnings would create an endless source of frivolous lawsuits that provide no benefit to the public or environment,” the letter states.

One local attorney who has represented businesses targeted in Proposition 65 lawsuits agrees.

“Some businesses may not even know one of these chemicals is present, even after exercising reasonable due diligence,” said Pasadena attorney J.T. Fox. “These reforms are certainly not business friendly. Give an unscrupulous lawyer an inch – as this could – and he will take a yard.”

Non-Profits Torn

For Mel Culpepper, and many non-profit executives like her, proposed minimum-wage hikes being considered by the Los Angeles City Council present a dilemma.

Culpepper is executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Hollywood, which provides after-school and learning services for children of working-class and poor families. She supports a higher minimum wage, knowing it would benefit many of the families she serves.

“It will greatly help the families of the clients we serve and maybe means that fewer of them would have to turn to us for help,” she said. “So I welcome it.”

But she’s concerned about the impact a dramatically higher minimum wage could have on her non-profit’s operations and its staff of 25.

The council is weighing Mayor Eric Garcetti’s proposal to raise the minimum wage to $13.25 an hour by 2017 and a proposal from six of its members to hike the wage even more, to $15.25 an hour by 2019.

Culpepper said she could afford the $13.25 wage, as her lowest-paid employees make nearly that much now, but a hike to $15.25 an hour would be difficult to handle and could force her to assign more duties to existing staff to keep costs down.

In an ironic twist, she said that if the $15.25 wage passed, “we might need to go to the city and seek some assistance.”

Mercury Loses Again

Mercury Insurance has lost yet another challenge to the state insurance commissioner’s authority to impose controls on the industry.

A Sacramento judge ruled last week that the commissioner has the legal authority to block an insurer from passing on advertising costs to policyholders through higher premiums. California voters gave the commissioner that power when they passed Proposition 103 in 1988.

Mercury Casualty Co., a division of Mercury General Corp. in Los Angeles, sued Commissioner Dave Jones in 2013, challenging his order to reduce Mercury homeowner insurance rates.

Mercury spokesman Shane Smith said the company plans to appeal last week’s ruling but declined further comment.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 227. Staff reporter Omar Shamout contributed to this column.

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