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NEW YORK-The Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. plans to push for broad-ranging liability reforms at both the state and federal level after Congress and state legislatures convene later this month.

But in addition to pursuing such traditional goals, the risk management group also plans to give emphasis to certain issues not usually prominent on RIMS' agenda, such as health care and pension reform.

Issues that retain their long-standing spots at the top of RIMS' agenda this year include reform of Superfund's pollution cleanup liability system, creating uniform standards for product liability and reforming the operations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"I don't see any big changes in RIMS' wish list," said Louis J. Drapeau, RIMS president. "The same kinds of things we've been working on for the past several years we'll keep plugging away at," said Mr. Drapeau, who is also manager-insurance and risk management for The Budd Co., a Troy, Mich.-based automotive parts supplier.

"Obviously, we're hoping Superfund reform gets the attention of the leadership and the members," said Paul Brown, RIMS' director of government affairs. "And we are still hoping for repeal of retroactive liability, recognizing that we'll have to deal with the political realities when the issue arises."

Attempts to reform Superfund's liability system, particularly its imposition of retroactive liability, foundered in the last Congress.

On the product liability front, RIMS perceives the political environment now as being more conducive to reform than it was prior to the 1996 elections, according to Mr. Brown.

"We're going to try to raise it," Mr. Brown said. "There's no pressure of election, no one's campaigning. I think the president might be a little receptive if the bill is tailored a little more toward what he wants. As far as we got last year, I think the president was the only stumbling block, so I think it might be a little less difficult."

President Clinton held that H.R. 956, the product liability reform bill he vetoed last year, did not provide consumers with adequate safeguards.

Dealing effectively with job safety concerns, particularly in regard to OSHA, also appears on RIMS' wish list.

"We still believe that OSHA reform has to be done legislatively," said Mr. Brown, adding that attempting to institute reforms administratively is inadequate. He cited a recent survey by the National Assn. of Manufacturers in which businesspeople criticized OSHA for a variety of shortcomings as proof that reform is needed (BI, Dec. 16, 1996).

For example, RIMS opposes OSHA's attempt to impose an ergonomics standard, a move that the Clinton administration revived after the election. Blocking a move toward setting a federal ergonomics standard "would be very high on our radar screen, obviously," said Mr. Brown.

RIMS also has advocated that OSHA work more closely with the industries it oversees to solve workplace safety problems, rather than rely on punitive measures, particularly for minor infractions like paperwork violations.

Other federal issues that RIMS will be watching include the shape of any natural disaster legislation that might emerge.

Although RIMS took no position on previous natural disaster bills in Congress, Mr. Brown said the organization is interested in seeing "what impact, if any" proposed legislation would have on commercial insurance.

RIMS also will track tax issues that come up, particularly those that affect captive insurers, said Mr. Brown.

Benefits-related legislation also will have RIMS' attention this year, said Pat Vaughan, RIMS' associate general counsel.

Ms. Vaughan noted that RIMS supported legislation sponsored by Sens. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kan., that promoted the portability of health care benefits by removing pre-existing condition exclusions in medical coverage.

"We know in 1997 there's going to be more health care activity. With respect to Kennedy-Kassebaum, we're going to be keeping an eye out for the regulations that will be coming out of the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and Treasury to implement the law," she said.

"We're going to be monitoring pension reforms. Specifically, the president will propose legislation that will allow greater pension portability," added Ms. Vaughan.

"We need to see the legislation first, but as a policy matter, we certainly would be in favor of workers being able to take their pensions with them when they leave," she said. She added that RIMS always pays attention to legislation that could impact the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, but noted that she doesn't see anything in the near future that would threaten the law's pre-emption provisions, which protect ERISA plans from state benefit mandates.

In addition, RIMS will monitor Medicare and Medicaid reform proposals, said Ms. Vaughan.

As the federal government reduces its spending for these programs, the costs associated with the cutbacks are likely to be passed on to private businesses in the form of higher benefits costs, she said.

Benefit issues also are likely to command attention at the state level, said Ms. Vaughan.

"We think there's going to be a lot of state activity concerning managed care cost issues. For example, in California, lobbyists are expected to push legislation outlawing gag rules," she said.

RIMS will have to see exactly what such proposals say before deciding its position on them, she said.

"Regarding state issues, as they come up, we alert our members in that state," said Mr. Drapeau.

"The best thing you can do is keep your finger on the pulse and be ready to respond to whatever happens," he said.

One state where risk management-related legislation appears likely to be front and center is New York.

"There are a couple of big issues that have already cropped up. I think New York state will be one of our big states for 1997," said Anne B. Allen, RIMS' legislative counsel.

Ms. Allen said Empire State lawmakers are expected to push to make New York a captive domicile. She said that RIMS "is very supportive" of the effort, though the group thought that there was a lot in the original captive bill that needed to be changed. For example, the initial captive law would not permit the use of captives for state-mandated lines of insurance like commercial automobile and workers compensation, noted Ms. Allen. RIMS would like those restrictions removed from any captive legislation.

New York lawmakers will also probably take another look at workers compensation reform, she said. "Even though there was some reform passed last year, we think we're going to see some more fine-tuning," said Ms. Allen. Lawmakers in New York may also introduce legislation dealing specifically with workers comp fraud.

Other states likely to deal with legislation of interest to risk managers include Texas, which Ms. Allen believes will be the site of further tort reform efforts, and Illinois, where recently enacted tort reforms are expected to come under legislative fire as well as continued judicial challenge.

Challenges to state-based tort reform "will be a huge defensive issue," she predicted.

In North Carolina, an Insurance Department-backed proposal that could saddle group captive reinsurers with onerous new regulations in the name of fronting disclosure also will be tracked closely by RIMS, said Ms. Allen.