Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put his Hawaiian vacation behind him and headed to a Costco store in Burbank on Monday to campaign to put a workers' compensation insurance reform initiative on the November ballot.
In Sacramento, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco) and the governor's office hurried to finish drafting a massive workers' comp bill in time to make the initiative unnecessary. Burton told Senate members that the bill should be ready for a public hearing in a legislative committee Wednesday and be put up for a vote in both houses of the Legislature by Thursday.
The last-minute talks are focusing on Democrats' insistence on putting controls on insurance premiums.
Schwarzenegger repeatedly has said he will commit himself to the fall initiative campaign if he doesn't get a bill he likes before Friday, the legal deadline for submitting 598,105 petition signatures to the secretary of state.
Schwarzenegger is pursuing a two-track strategy to pressure the Democratic-controlled Legislature to save employers what he says will be billions of dollars in insurance costs by cutting waste from California's system for providing benefits for workers injured on the job.
"We're shooting for a million signatures," the governor said at the Costco rally as he autographed $20 bills, books and scraps of paper in front of a battery of TV cameras. "That sends a clear message to the legislators in Sacramento: Do your job now -- this week -- or the people will do your job in November."
He headed back to the Capitol on Monday afternoon for more negotiations and additional rallies to drum up signatures for the initiative. The governor is ready to do battle at the ballot box on election day but has said that he prefers to craft a workers' comp deal in the statehouse. A bill could take effect immediately; a successful initiative would not kick in until January.
To that end, Schwarzenegger had rushed from his Brentwood home to his Capitol office Sunday to meet with Burton, the Legislature's most powerful lawmaker. Members of the governor's staff were pretty optimistic that the meeting made progress, Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Margita Thompson said.
On Monday, the governor conferred by phone with Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) on Democratic proposals to regulate workers' compensation insurance premiums.
The governor has said he will consider price caps on insurance premiums if they don't drive companies out of the California workers' comp marketplace.
Nunez and other Democrats contend that price caps are essential to make sure that insurance companies pass savings from reforms to employers, which have been hit by premiums that have doubled or tripled over the last few years.
On Monday, the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee approved a bill that would create a three-person commission to approve workers' compensation rate proposals.
But rate caps remain anathema to Republicans, business groups and insurance companies. They contend that controls will make it more difficult for employers to obtain coverage.
Republican lawmakers complained that they had been frozen out of workers' compensation talks.
"We will look at whatever deal has been agreed to between the governor and Democrats," Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte (R-Rancho Cucamonga) said. "If we like it, we will vote for it."
Times staff writer Robert Salladay contributed to this report.