California lawmakers OK bills to expand family leave, narrow workers comp for athletes

09/07/2013 12:00 AM

09/07/2013 12:22 AM

State lawmakers on Friday approved bills to expand California's paid family leave program and narrow the circumstances under which professional athletes can file for workers' compensation benefits.

Amid a television campaign and opposition from the Catholic Church, the Senate also barely approved a bill to extend the statute of limitations for some sex abuse victims.

The sex abuse bill, Senate Bill 131, cleared the Senate 21-8, the bare minimum required for passage in the 40-district Senate. It now heads to Gov. Jerry Brown.

SB 131 was resurrected after failing last month amid fierce lobbying from the Catholic Church and others. It would open a yearlong window for those excluded from a 2003 law that extended the time during which sexual abuse victims can file a civil lawsuit.

Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, punctuated Friday's debate with moving testimony about his own struggles arising from the abuse he suffered from a member of his family. Lara, who referred to himself as a "high-level survivor," said he knows many of his legislative colleagues have been pressured by the church not to support the bill.

Still, he urged them to support the measure on behalf of abused children, including those who have contemplated suicide.

"You never really forget," Lara said. "It's always in the back of your mind."

Opponents argued that the bill unfairly excludes public agencies, such as school districts, and instead only revives abuse claims against private institutions, such as the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts.

Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, said he wanted to support a measure that applies to both public and private victims. "This bill should be about protecting and bringing restitution to all victims, not just one set vs. another," he said.

The Senate, on a 34-2 vote, also approved Assembly Bill 1309, aimed at limiting workers' compensation claims by out-of-state professional athletes.

The measure by Assemblyman Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, would dramatically reduce the circumstances under which out-of-state athletes could file workers' compensation claims, closing a loophole and cutting costs for professional organizations, supporters say.

"These changes are necessary to ensure that the California workers' compensation system is no longer unjustly exploited and burdened by professional athletes from every state in America," said Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, who co-authored the measure with Ted Lieu, D-Torrance.

"There is no reason an out-of-state athlete should seek these benefits in California if he never was employed by a California team," Hill said.

Supporters of the measure say such practices by outside athletes have clogged court dockets and caused employers to absorb escalating costs.

The measure, which must go back to the Assembly for a final vote, requires an athlete to have played for a California-based team for at least two years and to have spent no more than seven seasons with an out-of-state team in order to file for benefits.

Legislators sent Brown a bill to expand California's paid family leave program, allowing workers to take paid time off to care for a greater variety of family members.

Currently, California workers may take up to six weeks of paid family leave to care for a seriously ill parent, child, spouse or domestic partner. Senate Bill 770 would allow workers to take paid time off to care for grandparents, grandchildren, siblings and in-laws. The partial pay that workers receive during the leave comes from deductions from employee paychecks.

The bill by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, passed the Senate on a 25-11 concurrence vote Friday, with Democrats in support and Republicans opposed.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

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