Politics & Government

California limits workers’ compensation for out-of-state athletes

Professional athletes will have to prove they played a substantial chunk of their career for California teams to claim disability benefits under a law Gov. Jerry Brown signed Tuesday.

Supporters of Assembly Bill 1309 by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, argued that professional athletes have exploited California’s overly generous workers’ compensation system, seeking disability benefits even when they played for out-of-state teams and rarely took the field in California.

With the new law in place, former athletes will be eligible for California workers’ compensation only if they played a minimum of either two years or 20 percent of their career for California-based teams, a threshold that is significantly lower than what the original version called for. The legislation sailed through the Legislature, overcoming a handful of “no” votes along the way.

“Our workers’ compensation system will no longer be unfairly targeted by out-of-state professional athletes, and California businesses will finally be protected from these claims,” Perea said in a statement. “This legislation has come a long way from its introduction and provides a fair, balanced and practical approach which still allows former California athletes to file here.”

An alliance of California teams backed the bill, including the Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Clippers and San Diego Chargers. Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League and the National Hockey League also came out in favor.

On the other side of the debate stood unions representing professional athletes, including the National Football League Players Association, the National Basketball Players Association and other major labor organizations. As part of an unsuccessful campaign to defeat the bill, current and past professional football players gathered on the steps of the state Capitol earlier this year and urged lawmakers not to sever the flow of benefits players have come to rely on after years of having their bodies battered.

“We feel this is an injustice to pro athletes,” said Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Labor Federation. “They have short-lived careers and often lifelong injuries as a result of the work they do.”