Pointing fingers

This week we received a submission for a Guest comment from Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, R Richvale. The state representative is asking people to sign an initiative that would reform California’s workers’ compensation system. That cost of that system to businesses, critics say, is chasing industry and its jobs out of the state and bankrupting the businesses that stay. LaMalfa charges that the only people making out here are the workers’ comp attorneys. “Who is benefiting from the current system?” LaMalfa asks. “Not injured workers—they are getting some of the lowest benefits in the nation. Not employers—they are paying the highest premiums. Over the past six years, the cost of workers’ compensation premiums for California employers nearly quadrupled—from $6.4 billion in 1997 to nearly $25 billion last year. One group of people clearly benefits from the system: lawyers who make a comfortable living handling workers’ compensation cases. The system was originally designed to deal fairly with on-the-job injuries without costly litigation—a no-fault system. It hasn’t worked out that way in California. We have the nation’s highest rate of disputed lost-time claims in which lawyers are involved—about 30 percent. That’s nearly five times the rate in Wisconsin and double the rate in Oregon.”

Take a look at page 66 of the SBC Smart Yellow Pages for 2003. There you’ll find a nearly half-page advertisement for the law offices of Keene & Deems, “A civil litigation practice with emphasis on personal injury, workers’ compensation, employment defense.” Keene, of course, is Rick Keene, R Chico, LaMalfa’s fellow assemblyman. We tried but failed this week to contact LaMalfa to find out if he’s pointing the finger at Keene for the failed workers’ comp system.

That was horrible news about the escape and eventual killing of the gorilla from the confines of his enclosure at the Dallas Zoo last week. The 350-pound primate got mad when a frightened mother slammed a metal door on him, and he retaliated by biting her on the arm and then another woman’s leg and her infant son’s noggin. The mind-numbingly obvious journalistic catchphrase, “It could have been worse” (see Enterprise-Record headline, “It could have ended badly,” March 17), applies here. The good news is that Chico restaurateur and man of many ideas Fred Marken is said to be considering opening a concession stand at the zoo called “Grilla Bites Baby’s Head.” (Disclaimer: Marken had nothing to do with that bad joke, besides coming up with the odd name for his downtown eatery in the first place.)

A new slick home-and-garden magazine called In /side/ out hit the streets last week, and it does for the local construction/building-supply/real-estate industry what the Synthesis does for the local drinking industry—shameless promotion that masquerades as legitimate journalism. (It’s put out by the same people.) Case in point: the story about the Doe Mill Neighborhood housing development by former E-R reporter Eleanor Cameron. In this glowing infomercial, Cameron mentions Doe Mill architect R. John Anderson but fails to mention that he is also her husband. She notes the “cute and community friendly planning” and that the developers’ goal “seems to have been met.” What else is she going to say? “This neighborhood sucks”? It’s like a music critic covering his girlfriend’s rock band. I mean, it’s OK in a small town where resources are thin, but come on, at least come clean on your relationship to the subject. I know that is going to piss off plenty of people, and I’m sorry. God knows the last thing I want to do in this column is to make people mad at me.

A tribute to Jessica Lynn Strock is set for this Saturday, March 27, at the Chico Women’s Club, 592 East Third St., beginning at 11 a.m. Strock, an outspoken political activist, passed away Jan. 23 after a long illness. Organizer (and Strock’s longtime partner) Mike Scram says all are welcome and offers, music, food, drink, friends, cronies, acquaintances, stories, yarns and tall tales. For more information call (530) 893-3836.