Metro-East News

Senate panel votes down Rauner’s work-comp plan

State Sen. Bill Haine, D Alton.
State Sen. Bill Haine, D Alton. BND

One of the pillars of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s “turnaround agenda” for improving Illinois’ business climate fell Wednesday in a state Senate committee.

Members of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, including Alton Democrat Bill Haine, voted down a bill that would change rules for workers’ compensation. The changes are designed to reduce the rates that companies pay for workers’ compensation insurance.

The committee’s action is the latest move in a tussle between Rauner, a Republican, and the Democrat-majority legislature. Rauner wants his package of legislation approved before he'll consider signing a budget.

Co-sponsors of the worker’s compensation legislation include Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, and Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville.

The committee’s vote, mostly along party lines, was 4-8. Those voting against the bill included Haine.

Rauner’s proposed changes to workers’ compensation include one affecting employers’ liability.

Currently, to recover on a workers’ compensation claim, the employee must show that he or she suffered an injury through work. If the job is related at all to the injury, the injury is compensable. If a work injury aggravates a pre-existing condition even slightly, the employer is 100 percent liable.

Under Rauner’s proposal, the accident at work must be more than 50 percent responsible for the injury, in comparison to other causes. He says the change would bring Illinois in line with 29 other states and reduce workers’ compensation premiums by eliminating compensation for injuries that aren’t work-related.

The workers’ compensation bill and other planks of Rauner’s agenda have been crafted in “working groups” — teams of legislators set up by Rauner. Critics say the groups’ dealings have been too secretive.

Haine, during debate Wednesday, asked, “Were the trial lawyers in the working group?”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, replied that interested parties made their stances known to lawmakers.

“Believe me, their views were known to those legislators,” she said.

Legislative committees also are considering Rauner’s proposed changes to the civil legal system and a property tax freeze.

The package of bills reflects a scaled-back version of Rauner’s “turnaround agenda” filed earlier this week.

Rauner’s office says Democrats’ votes show they are walking away from compromise reforms to turn around Illinois’ economy.

Meanwhile, Democrats are advancing budget bills outlining a $36.3 billion spending plan for next year that Republicans oppose.

“When will the Chicago Democrats running the legislature learn how to add and subtract?” said Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville. “The Democrats’ plan to spend $4 billion more than what the State of Illinois has in the bank is absurd. If I ran my family farm this way, I would be bankrupt.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 618-239-2475. Follow him on Twitter: @B_Brueggemann.

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