The fate of California's controversial mandatory health insurance law was placed back in voters' hands when a state appeals court allowed a referendum seeking to repeal the law to be included on the November election ballot.
In a victory for business groups, the 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled that the referendum had been "erroneously prohibited qualification" for the March ballot and that the 620,000 voters who signed petitions supporting its inclusion were not misled. Last month, a Sacramento Superior Court judge had blocked the referendum from going before voters, after the authors of the law-supported by doctors, labor unions and community activists-filed suit alleging that the petitions used to collect signatures contained "misleading and prejudicial information."
At issue is Senate Bill 2, a landmark law designed to expand health insurance to about 1 million of the state's 6.3 million uninsured by requiring businesses with 50 or more employees to buy coverage for workers and their families or pay into a state insurance fund. The California Chamber of Commerce has fought to repeal the bill-which was signed into law by former Gov. Gray Davis just before his recall in October 2003-calling it a job killer and a $7 billion burden on employers.
Opponents had originally sought to put the referendum on the March 2 ballot. But the appellate court said that by the time it received all the documents for the case, the deadline to print ballots for March had passed. Instead, it cleared the measure to appear on the upcoming presidential election ballot.
The chamber now plans to launch "an extremely aggressive, all-out media campaign" to educate voters about the flawed nature of the bill, said spokeswoman Sara Lee. "We feel vindicated by the court's ruling and we're confident that once voters understand the true implications of the law on our state's economy, they will vote against it," Lee said.
Proponents of the bill expressed disappointment at the appellate court's decision but remained optimistic about the law's survival. They pointed to a new Field Poll, released the same day as the court's ruling, which found that 65% of California's registered voters support the law's provisions, although the measure was not well-known among those polled. Twenty-seven percent of the 929 voters polled early this month opposed the bill, while 8% had no opinion.