Dear Pro Tem Atkins:
As the representatives of the Tulare County’s first and second supervisorial districts, we write to express our strong opposition to Senate Bill (SB) 1127 by Senators Atkins, Cortese, and Hertzberg. As drafted, SB 1127 would have significant adverse impacts on Tulare County’s capacity to administer an equitable and efficient workers’ compensation system, with great potential to harm public agencies, their employees, and the taxpayers who fund the system.
Our opposition is rooted in the following three provisions of SB 1127:
- Significant decrease in time needed to thoroughly investigate workers’ compensation claims:
- Workers' compensation claims can be extraordinarily complex. Often, claims beginning as simple can become increasingly complex as an investigation unfolds and reveals several factors that must be addressed in determining compensation for injured workers. This makes it incumbent on investigators to complete as thorough of investigation as possible within statutory timeframes to, among other things, reduce the risk of subsequent litigation resulting from an incomplete or unsatisfactory investigation.
- County Risk Management takes great effort to complete workers’ compensation investigations, though often finds the current 90-day requirement to investigate a claim as challenging to manage. SB 1127, by decreasing the time given to investigate a workers’ compensation claim from 90 to 75 days, would put the County in a quandary between having to complete accelerated investigations while potentially foregoing the level of detail needed to shield the County from litigation stemming from compensability determinations.
2. Unreasonable increase in penalties for employers:
- The current 90-day statutory requirement to investigate workers' compensation claims often presents significant challenges for County Risk Management to determine appropriate compensation, especially related to complex claims. Not only would SB 1127 reduce the time allowed to investigate workers’ compensation claims, but it would significantly increase County liability for “unreasonably” rejecting “claims of injury” – up to five times the amount of benefits that were unreasonably delayed.
- Many new categories of claims, including those related to COVID-19, present particularly difficult cases to assess. At a minimum, investigators need to be able to thoroughly investigate claims to avoid “unreasonably” rejecting a valid claim. SB 1127 is fundamentally flawed by making it more challenging for the County to thoroughly investigate claims while also massively increasing penalties resulting from improper investigations.
3. Unjustified Expansion of Temporary Disability for some Illnesses:
- Without justification, SB 1127 more than doubles the temporary disability duration for certain cancer presumption claims. Not only does this present a potentially tremendous fiscal impact to the workers’ compensation system, but it is also unnecessary given the protections already in place for workers filing these claims. For example, in some cases, disability retirement benefits can be received at the same time as temporary disability, making this provision of SB 1127 a gratuitous strain on the public funding sourcing these payments. While the County fully supports fair compensation for injured workers, it cannot support provisions posing an unnecessary fiscal impact on the economy.
The existing legislative framework of workers' compensation is a complex system of interrelated components. By only modifying certain aspects of the system, SB 1127 fails to protect against harm to employers, specifically public agencies, and taxpayers. Furthermore, the existing workers’ compensation framework already provides for equitable access to compensation for injured workers. SB 1127 will pose tremendous operational and fiscal challenges to public agencies with only marginal benefits to injured workers. As such, we must respectfully oppose the measure.
Larry Micari, District One Supervisor
Tulare County Board of Supervisor
Pete Vander Poel, District Two Supervisor
Tulare County Board of Supervisors