SACRAMENTO (KCBS) – A high-stakes fight over whether California should pay workers’ compensation claims to professional athletes who play for teams based in other states moved to the state Senate on Wednesday.

The National Football League and other professional leagues favor legislation by Central Valley Assemblyman Henry Perea to close what they see as a loophole that athletes with tenuous connections to the state to file for what’s known as cumulative injuries that occur after years of playing.

According to a February Los Angeles Times report, NFL players who appeared in as few as one game in the golden state have filed claims for their injuries. Unlike other states, California allows the players to file claims not just for the specific injuries suffered during the games, but also the long-term complications of participating in the sport.

Since 1980, payments have totaled $747 million has been paid to roughly 4,500 athletes, according to a study cited by The Times.

“There is something like 4,000 open NFL cases right now, 75 percent of them from players who never played for a California team at any point during their careers,” said Brook Gardiner, senior labor relations attorney for the NFL.

Some athletes don’t see it that way.

“It cuts off the ability of employees who get hurt of getting workers’ compensation from the teams that employ them,” said DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association.

That opinion was echoed in a recent San Francisco Chronicle editorial written by NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees that argues against changes in the law.

Perea opened debate before the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee by saying that AB 1309 does not bar all athletes from collecting workers’ comp, but instead requires that athletes file for claims in the state where they are principally employed.

Opponents representing several major league players associations testified the bill would adversely affect minor league athletes who make significantly less money, and also make it virtually impossible for athletes in major leagues injured during games in California to play often enough in the state to qualify.

Opponents also noted several questionable claims had been overturned in court, making the legislation unnecessary.

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