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SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A bill before Gov. Pete Wilson would make it easier for the Department of Industrial Relations to fine employers that don't buy workers compensation insurance.

S.B. 924 would give the DIR's director more discretion in levying fines. Current law requires all employers except the state to secure payment of workers comp through insurance or self-insurance. Those that don't are subject to a fine equal to $1,000 per employee and are prohibited from using employee labor, essentially shutting down the employer. But the fine can be levied only if the director of industrial relations issues a formal stop order.

S.B. 924 would authorize the director to issue and serve a penalty assessment order on any employer the director determines has failed to secure the payment of workers comp for a period in excess of 10 days during the calendar year.

Other workers comp bills before the governor include:

* S.B. 1965 overturns an appeals court decision in Estrada vs. the Workers Compensation Appeals Board that had prohibited the settling or commuting of accrued vocational rehabilitation benefits in cases where a worker's right to any workers comp benefits is in question.

In 1987, the courts, in Thomas vs. Sports Chalet Inc., provided an exception to the prohibition in cases where a judge found "a good faith issue which if resolved against the applicant would defeat the applicant's claim for all benefits." This became known as a "Thomas" finding and was codified by statute in 1989.

But in 1997, in Estrada, an appellate court ruled that when a Thomas exemption does not exist, the law prohibits any commutation or settlement of vocational rehabilitation benefits.

* A.B. 204, which Gov. Wilson has signed, requires services provided by physician assistants and nurse practitioners to be included in the official workers comp medical fee schedule, which is being promulgated by the Division of Workers Compensation.

The law lets workers seek acupuncture treatment for work-related injuries and choose a personal acupuncturist prior to injury or when seeking a one-time change of physician, as is permitted under workers comp law.

* A.B. 1957 extends through the year 2000 from Jan. 1, 1999 funding for the Division of Occupational Safety and Health's targeted inspection and consultation program, prescribed under the 1993 workers comp reforms. Under the program, the division provides inspection and consultation services to employers with the highest levels of preventable injuries and illnesses and workers comp losses.

* S.B. 1933 ensures that firefighting emergency response personnel receive workers comp benefits for injuries or illnesses sustained while performing off-duty "Good Samaritan" emergency services in good faith within their scope of employment.