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San Fran restaurant group won’t get high court health care review

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday to not review a legal challenge of a San Francisco health care law means an end to a lengthy legal challenge of that measure by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

The San Francisco’s Health Care Security Ordinance, also known as “Healthy San Francisco,” requires employers of 20 or more people to pay for worker health insurance. The restaurant association’s challenge was intended to help members avoid needing to deal with a local law as well as the federal health care insurance overhaul passed into law earlier this year.

“Our legal challenge is now complete,” said Kevin Westlye, executive director of the association, which represents about 850 member restaurants in the city and county of San Francisco, where about 4,000 eateries operate. “There is no way to appeal other than the Supreme Court and they’ve elected not to hear the case.”

Because the GGRA is out of legal options, “the restaurant community is going to have to live with executing a local [health-insurance] mandate and also executing a federal mandate,” Westlye said. He added, “Unfortunately, the details are different for both [laws].”

Westlye said the association would now begin to study the national law and decipher how best to help the restaurants meet local and federal mandates. He said the GGRA’s membership roster primarily reflects San Francisco’s large, chef-owned independent restaurants, as opposed to national chains.

In rejecting GGRA’s petition for review on this case, the last day of the Supreme Court's 2009-2010 term, the high court effectively sustained a Sept. 30, 2008 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding the legality of the City's employer spending requirement for health care, San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera said.

Employers in the city and county of San Francisco currently pay a minimum hourly wage of $9.79, with no provisions for a tip credit. The health care measure requires employers of between 20 and 99 people to pay $1.31 per hour worked by each into a city and county managed fund that provides health care coverage to the uninsured. Employers of 100 or more people that do not provide health insurance coverage must contribute to the fund $1.96 per hour worked by each staffer.

The GGRA began its legal challenge in November of 2006 after the ordinance was signed into law in August of that year. On its website, the association referred to the “current and increasing future devastating financial impact of the Health Care Security Ordinance on the restaurant industry.”

The challenge was based on a contention that the employer mandate illegally conflicts with the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA. The association won a legal victory in December 2007, when the U.S District Court found in favor of the trade group, holding that the San Francisco employer mandate was preempted by the federal rules.

However, the following month, in January 2008, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court granted a motion by city attorney Herrera, enabling the program to go forward and setting off the long series of legal moves that ended with Monday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Contact Al Liddle at [email protected].


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