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June 15, 2000

Legislative session winds down; lawmakers likely to return next week

A number of issues of interest to business remained unresolved Thursday, June 15, as the legislative session began winding down.

The state Senate adjourned early Thursday, and the Assembly was expected to suspend activities later in the day.

However, legislative action on these outstanding issues remains a distinct possibility. The state Senate has said it plans to resume deliberations Thursday, June 22, and the Assembly is also said to be likely to return next week.

"We are continuing to monitor several issues that affect business, and we strongly encourage our members to stay vigilant in tracking these bills," said Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh.

Here is a status report on key business-related issues:

Privacy: The Senate late Wednesday passed two privacy-related bills.

The so-called "do not call" bill (S.8132/Fuschillo, A.10817-A/Klein) would require the state Consumer Protection Board to maintain a list of consumers who wish not to be called by telemarketers. The Business Council has concerns about this bill because the new list would duplicate a "do not call" list already maintained by the telemarketing industry, said Diana A. Ehrlich, legislative analyst for The Business Council.

"The new list would differ in key ways from the industry's existing list, which raises new complications for this industry with no certainty of additional benefit to consumers," Ehrlich said.

The "Telemarketing Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act" (s.8116/Maziarz, A.7641-C/Clark) would require telemarketing firms to register with the state, pay a new fee, and secure bonding.

Workers' compensation: Thursday, there was reported to be a three-way agreement among Governor Pataki, the Senate, and the Assembly on a broader workers' compensation bill (S.8176/Rules, A.11473/Rules-Nolan) that addresses several Council priorities, said Kerry Kirwan, The Council's legislative analyst specializing in workers' compensation.

State Insurance Fund investments: The bill would permit the state Insurance Fund (SIF) to invest up to 50 percent of its surplus and reserve funds in preferred stock, common stocks, and mutual funds. SIF now may invest 50 percent of available funds in electricity, gas, and telecommunications utilities; it may invest only 10 percent of its funds in bonds issued by other corporations.

The Council argued that giving SIF this improved investment flexibility, which other insurance carriers and other states' insurance funds already have, would improve its investment performance and, in turn, produce reduced rates and a more competitive workers' compensation market in New York. The Business Council supported this proposal.

Independent medical examinations: A second provision of this bill is a tightening of regulations on independent medical examiners (IMEs). Independent medical examinations can be requested by employers, their workers-comp insurance carriers, and claimants. They are extensive medical evaluations designed to assess the extent and likely causes of a worker's injury.

The bill would provide that only New York State-licensed and board-certified physicians can perform an independent medical examination, with an exception available for out-of-state claimants.

As of Thursday, this bill did not include two other provisions that The Business Council had opposed. One would have increased, from $500 to $1500, the level above which advanced diagnostic testing or services must receive special approval. The other would have replaced the current three-member dispute resolution panel with a single physician or other health-care provider to disputes over the recommendations of other health-care providers.

Also late Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill (S.4117A/Spano) that would significantly increase employers' workers' compensation costs for chiropractic care. The Business Council strongly opposes this bill, which has not passed in the Assembly.

The bill would require that chiropractors' fees for workers' comp cases be increased to equal medical doctors' fees in the workers' comp system. It would also allow chiropractors to be paid separately for each and every diagnostic or treatment procedure that they administer in a single office visit, Kirwan said.

Now, chiropractors receive a single fee for each office visit, which covers any treatments and procedures provided during that visit. This proposed jump in chiropractors' fees would significantly increase New York's workers' compensation costs, which remain more than 20 percent above the national average, said Kirwan.

Minimum wage: By midday Thursday, the Senate had not passed any bill to increase the state's minimum wage. The Business Council has opposed a proposal to increase the state's minimum wage by 31 percent, to $6.75 per hour, and to provide further automatic hikes linked to any increases in the state's average annual wage. That bill has passed the Assembly. The Business Council has long argued that the minimum wage should be set in Washington.

Debate over this minimum-wage proposal is likely to resume in the future, and The Council is encouraging its member companies, associations, and chambers of commerce to continue communicating with lawmakers to express their opposition to this proposal, said Walsh.

Health care: The Senate adjourned without passing an "HMO liability" bill, which would authorize lawsuits against health-maintenance organizations arising from disputes over insurance coverage. The Business Council strongly opposes this bill.

The Senate also decline to pass a bill that would have eliminated New York's free market in prescription drugs by imposing government price controls on prescription drugs. The Business Council has raised concerns about this bill and has urged lawmakers to seek free market-based approaches to ensuring that prescription drugs are available to all sectors of society.

The Assembly and Senate have passed separate and dissimilar bills in two other health-related areas, and it was unclear if the two houses would be able to reach agreement on the issues.

Infertility mandate: Both houses have approved bills that would require that all health insurance policies include coverage for infertility treatments. The Council opposes this and all health-care mandates because they drive up the cost of insurance and make it harder for individuals to buy it and employers to provide it as a benefit.

Physician profiling: Both houses have approved bills to make information on all physicians available on the Internet. The Business Council supports the idea of making such information available to consumers, including information on the professional and educational backgrounds of physicians, their experience doing specific procedures, and hospitals where they have privileges.