Who says that the Capitol doesn't try to help business?
The Legislature passed and Gov. Jerry Brown this week signed two significant bills that could improve California's business climate.
Wednesday, he signed Senate Bill 1186, which is supposed to prevent predatory claims against small-business owners while encouraging compliance on disabled access. California accounts for about 40 percent of all lawsuits under the Americans With Disabilities Act, but has only 12 percent of the country's disabled population. That doesn't include the outrageous practice, now banned, of "pay now or pay later" letters sent by unscrupulous lawyers who say they won't sue if a business coughs up a quick cash settlement. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that's extortion.
The law also stops "stacking" of claims to jack up awards with repeated visits to the same business for the same alleged violation. And it reduces potential damages against businesses that correct problems within 30 to 60 days of receiving a complaint.
Tuesday, Brown signed SB 863, which is designed to reduce workers compensation costs for businesses, while still managing to increase benefits for those hurt on the job, by limiting lawsuits and making the system more efficient.
California businesses are paying $19 billion
for workers comp insurance, up from less than $15 billion two years ago. The measure will save businesses $1 billion next year, supporters say. It will also increase benefits for permanently disabled workers by $740 million (an average boost of 30 percent) and create a $120 million program for workers so badly injured that they can't return to a job at their previous wages, they say.
The California Chamber of Commerce, which continually harps about legislators making life difficult for business, supported both measures. Marc Burgat, the chamber's vice president for government relations, said Thursday that the laws "remove a significant hurdle" to businesses looking to expand or move to California by creating more certainty about the rules they will have to follow.
It's worth noting that both bills had bipartisan backing. On the workers comp plan, the governor boasted that "it's extraordinary to see Republicans and Democrats come together to solve a problem before it becomes a crisis."
These are both extremely complex areas where there have been recent compromises that now are being "fixed" again. There was opposition to both new laws from interest groups and advocates. It remains to be seen whether these sweeping reforms work as intended.
The workers comp overhaul, in particular, could have hidden problems. The 170-page measure, negotiated in secret by business and labor lobbyists, was rammed through at the end of the session with little scrutiny or debate.
Still, these laws could level the playing field in places where the state is clearly outside the national norm. That would be good not only for business, but for all Californians.