At his State of the State speech on Wednesday, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed a whole slew of reforms he said are needed to turn around Illinois. The one reform that would best signal to business that Illinois is on a different path is the one that clearly hit a nerve: workers’ comp reform.
House Speaker Michael Madigan commented that Illinois reformed workers comp in 2011. But those changes were just half measures. Workers in Illinois still don’t have to show that their injury was primarily caused by work; without tightening the causation requirement, employers end up on the hook for claims that might be more related to tennis or fishing than a job.
Rauner’s call for workers’ comp and tort reform prompted John Cooney, the Illinois Trial Lawyers president, to accuse Rauner of weakening Illinois’ “modest” work force protections. Modest? Seriously?
In a comparison of workers’ comp premiums in 2014, Illinois ranked seventh highest out of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. Of particular significance, Illinois’ rates are higher than surrounding states. For instance, Missouri was ranked 21st, Wisconsin 23rd, Iowa, 24th and Indiana 50th. Illinois has to be competitive with its neighbors if it hopes to attract and hold onto businesses and jobs.
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Madigan said he’s willing to revisit the workers’ comp issue, which is a start. If he doesn’t believe Rauner about the need for reform, maybe he’ll listen to his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office has to defend the state in worker’s comp cases. Her comment in 2011: “To say we’ve reformed the workers’ comp system is a gross overstatement.”
It’s time to finish the job.