SACRAMENTO — Controversial legislation that would restrict most professional athletes from out-of-state teams from filing claims in California workers' compensation courts won overwhelming approval Thursday in the state Assembly.
Despite aggressive lobbying by professional football players and other athletes, the bill, AB 1309, passed 61 to 4. The measure now goes to the state Senate.
"Our workers' compensation system has been increasingly exploited by out-of-state professional players at the expense of California teams and all California businesses," said the bill's author, Assemblyman Henry T. Perea (D-Fresno). "The flood of claims are raising insurance costs for all employers."
Player unions and their labor backers said they were disappointed with the lopsided vote and vowed to continue fighting the bill as it moves through the Legislature.
Perea and supporters of his bill — the five major professional sports leagues and individual franchise owners — contended that some California workers' compensation courts have been swamped by claims from retired football players and, more recently, retirees from basketball, hockey and baseball teams.
California's century-old workers' compensation system has turned into a magnet for out-of-state claims because it has the power to approve financial payouts and lifetime medical care for long-term injuries that are not available in other states.
California's liberal statute-of-limitation interpretation makes it relatively easy for older athletes to make claims, sometimes years after they stopped playing.
The athletes typically have been seeking compensation for so-called cumulative trauma. These injuries don't stem from a specific incident, such as a broken bone or ripped tendon. Trauma, rather, is caused by the accumulated wear and tear on the body after years of rough play.
Opponents of the bill say it would give billionaire team owners an opportunity to sidestep their responsibility for caring for their injured former players.
"The truth is AB 1309 makes it impossible for professional athletes to receive workers' compensation they collectively bargained," said a statement released by the labor coalition trying to defeat the bill. "There is no loophole. Those players paid taxes in California, and California provides a forum for workers' comp cases to be heard."
The bill, opponents added, unfairly singles out pro athletes but also sets a precedent that could later restrict coverage for people in other professions whose traveling to California contributed to an eventual cumulative trauma.