House passes workers comp bill

By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network

SPRINGFIELD — House Democrats on Thursday passed their own workers’ compensation reform bill despite warnings from their Republican colleagues that it faces a certain veto.

Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, said Democrats were making a sincere effort to improve the administration of the workers’ comp law and deliver savings to employers.

“We believe that, for the first time, this is us trying to extend an olive branch to the governor,” Hoffman said. “We are trying to move this issue forward.”

House Republicans were not buying in, especially when it came to changes in the definition of causation, or what makes an injury a workers’ comp-eligible injury.

“The reality here is we’d just be doing exactly what we are currently doing,” said Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer, R-Jacksonville.

The legislation passed by a vote of 63-39 with four representatives voting present and 12 not voting. It now moves to the Senate.

Because the bill would not go into effect until June 2016, it did not need supermajority approval.

Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grover, said the effort, House Bill 1287, was an insincere gesture of compromise.

“This is the continuation of a process that’s old, tiresome and wasteful,” he said.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, R-Winnetka, doesn’t care for the bill.

“This proposal ignores the most important reforms we need for our worker’s compensation system, and in another instance, could actually undermine previous reform efforts,” wrote Lance Trover, the governor’s director of communications.

“Sadly, instead of taking steps to make Illinois more competitive and job-friendly, this is another example of the speaker (Michael Madigan) and his allies putting politics ahead of the people. Illinois needs real reform.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan late Thursday afternoon said eliminating the fiscal year 2016 deficit remains the most important task for state officials, and he again rejected Rauner’s desired changes in workers’ comp law and other “Turnaround Illinois” agenda items as a precondition to budget talks.

“The governor has attempted to interject non-budget issues into the preparation of a spending plan and my belief is that those non-budget issues go right to core beliefs of both Democrats and Republicans in the legislature,” Madigan said.

Some of the governor’s proposals would push injured workers into emergency rooms and onto welfare, he argues.

Rauner and the Republican legislative leaders say Illinois’ workers’ comp system needs revisions because its lax definitions and expensive fee schedules and payouts drive up insurance costs, which makes Illinois unattractive to new business and drives existing ones to consider moving out of state.

The state continues toward July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, without a budget.

The GOP says legislative Democrats just want a tax increase, and the fact they sent Rauner a roughly $36 billion spending plan that is $3 billion to $4 billion bigger than estimated revenue proves it. Democrats answer the governor’s own budget proposal was at least $2.2 billion short.

The House and Senate are next in session Tuesday.

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