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Signatures Needed For Insurance Vote

Business leaders have until January 4 to collect enough voter signatures to force a public vote on legislation requiring larger employers to pay part of the cost of their employees´ health insurance.

Opponents of the legislation need the signatures to force a referendum that could overturn the new requirement strongly supported by labor leaders.

It requires companies with more than 200 employees to begin offering health benefits by 2006. Smaller companies with more than 20 employees have until 2007 to offer coverage, but companies with 20 to 49 workers only have to provide health insurance if the Legislature also passes a 20 percent tax credit for those firms.

The new law was signed by Governor Davis earlier this month.