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SACRAMENTO — The battle over confirming Andrea Hoch as head of California’s workers’ compensation division shapes up as a testing ground for the political muscle of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association and its allies in organized labor. “If we’re not successful, our power is not what we would like it to be,” said David Rockwell, the CAAA’s president-elect. Hoch, who was temporarily appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nearly a year ago, must be confirmed by the state Senate in order to keep her job. By law, her confirmation must take place before her one-year anniversary on April 25. The Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Senate President Don Perata, D-Oakland, postponed a hearing on Hoch’s confirmation, which had been slated for Wednesday. No new date has been scheduled. The delay was ostensibly to give senators more time to wade through the deluge of letters on the confirmation orchestrated by both supporters and opponents of Hoch’s confirmation. None of the Rules Committee’s three Democratic and two Republican members has gone on record about how they would vote on Hoch’s confirmation, although Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, is viewed by some insiders as a potential swing vote. “I’ve received stacks of correspondence and lots of e-mail, and I’m just beginning to work my way through it,” said Bowen. Bowen, a declared candidate for secretary of state, received $5,000 from the SBC California Employees PAC in 2004. Perata also has received substantial contributions from employee groups and $3,200 from the California Applicants’ Attorney Association PAC in 2004. Applicant attorney PACs also contributed $2,000 to Rules Committee member Sen. Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, in 2003. A registered Republican, Hoch served for 14 years in the state attorney general’s office under both Dan Lungren and Bill Lockyer. She left her post as a chief assistant attorney general to take the Schwarzenegger appointment. Legislators “are under a lot of pressure from the unions to kick Andrea Hoch out,” said Charles Bacchi, a California Chamber of Commerce lobbyist. “The real question is, what does that really accomplish? Other than just pounding your chest and celebrating victory for a very brief shining moment in time, it really doesn’t do any good.” But applicant attorneys contend their challenge of Hoch is based on genuine concerns about her approach to workers’ comp reform, particularly changes she made in December to the formula for permanent disability payments. “She, in our estimation, spends an inordinate amount of time getting her marching orders from members of the insurance industry, and not from all sides,” said Rockwell. Applicant attorneys in January sued Hoch in Sacramento County Superior Court, alleging that she failed to follow legislative direction setting the new disability standards. The CAAA asked the court for a writ of mandamus “compelling the DWC [Division of Workers' Compensation] and Director Hoch to properly perform their official duties.” Hoch supporters, including employer groups and the California Chamber of Commerce, contend she is a highly competent, dedicated public servant who is now being targeted by opponents of SB 899, the workers’ comp reform bill approved by the Legislature and signed by Schwarzenegger. They say that even if Hoch isn’t confirmed, workers’ comp reform will still move forward under the direction of another Schwarzenegger appointee. “The governor would appoint someone else, and I would think it would be someone intent on following the intent of the [reform] legislation,” said Sen. Roy Ashburn, a Bakersfield Republican who sits on the Rules Committee. Ashburn said he is “prepared to give Andrea Hoch a full and fair hearing,” and theorized that opponents may be trying to block her nomination as a way of re-opening the workers’ comp issue. SB 899, carried by state Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno, passed with the support of both legislative houses in April, partly under pressure from workers’ comp reformers who were on the verge of taking a more radical, Schwarzenegger-supported initiative to the November ballot. Applicant attorneys have theorized that SB 899 received support from Democratic lawmakers because then-Senate President John Burton, a San Francisco Democrat, wanted to keep a workers’ comp initiative from competing with a mandatory health coverage measure that was on the fall ballot.

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