The Obstinate Children and the Illinois General Assembly

Having grown up in rural west central Illinois, surrounded by farmers and manufacturing laborers from John Deere and International Harvester, it was instilled in us even as children that we all have duties and responsibilities to make a contribution to our family, our community and the professions we serve.  As kids, these were “chores,” as teenagers these were “chores and part-time jobs,” and as adults they’ve become the backbone of our careers and raising our families.  As many of my family, friends and colleagues may recall, there were some kids and teenagers that would become obstinate, some for longer durations than others, against the general principle of living up to those duties and responsibilities.  We could go on and debate the reasoning behind the obstinate behavior, but that is another topic and another day.

The recent activity on the part of the Illinois State General Assembly takes me back to the “obstinate child” seen when I was growing up (yours truly included).  Similarly, we can debate the reason for the obstinate behavior of our state legislators, and I’m sure we all have an opinion.  (If you’d like to hear mine, do feel free to give me a call.  I have an opinion!) The point is that, like an obstinate child or teenager, our General Assembly has again shucked its duties and responsibilities in a classic end of the school year slacker routine much akin to that seen in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and rushed out of Springfield heading home leaving a mess in its wake and nothing truly accomplished.

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In a flurry of activity over the last few days of the 100th Session of the General Assembly, which ended on May 31st, the General Assembly managed to pass, largely along a party-line vote, what it has dubbed “workers’ compensation reform” in the form of two bills that we’ve been following: HB2525 and HB2622.  Why do we say this is not actually workers’ compensation reform?  There is no reform here, only codification of currently bad case law, with one exception, and the addition of an unnecessary state mutual insurance fund for workers’ compensation insurance. The Governor will now review these bills and either approve or veto them – we are urging our readers to contact the governor’s office asking for a veto of both.

As we previously informed our readers, HB2525, proposed by House Democrats in response to the Governor’s request for workers’ compensation reform in exchange for a realistic dialogue on budget and pension reforms, basically does the following:  Codifies Venture Newburg by establishing factors for determining traveling employee status and expands liability by also defining a traveling employee using a reasonable & foreseeable standard; Codifies current case law of “in the course of employment” & “arising out of the employment” and reinforcing the current “any” cause standard; and Allows AMA guideline submission for impairment rating for PPD benefit.  This is existing law already in use.  This is not reform.  The one glimmer of light in this passed legislation is that the bill reverses the ruling in Will County Forest Preserve District and returns us to over 100 years of precedent that the shoulder is not part of the whole person, but a part of the arm.  (It also states that the hip is part of the leg, not the whole person, just to make sure that does not become an issue with the courts in the future.)  HB2525 is not workers’ compensation reform. Like the obstinate child, the GA has thrown a comforter on the bed and said, “there, we’ve made the bed!”  It has been sent to the Governor for signature.  We are calling for the Governor to veto the bill.

The state legislature also passed HB2622, which is a bill that creates of a state-run Illinois Employers Mutual Insurance Company, a state WC/OD insurance company, as an alternative to private WC/OD insurance.  This is intended to control WC insurance premiums in Illinois by providing employers with a low-cost alternative to the premiums offered by more than 300 competing WC/OD insurers currently writing insurance in Illinois.  Anyone that knows the basics of marketing knows that in our capitalistic society, the market will generally self-regulate.  Insurers in Illinois do make a profit – why else would they write insurance in Illinois?  But the insurers also compete against one another for a limited ( and actually shrinking) market in Illinois as the number of employers continues to decrease.  What does that mean? To remain competitive, these 300 or so companies have to keep tight profit margins to remain competitive in the market and grab as much of that business as possible.  The market regulates itself and is employer driven.  What can a state-run insurance company do better than private insurers without any additional burdens on the Illinois taxpayer?

Both bills provide no promise of actually reducing the cost of workers’ compensation claims in Illinois, nor do they entail actual reforms. To me, this attempt at “reform” by the GA looks and sounds more like the kid throwing a tantrum in response to a simple request to propose true claims-cost reducing reform to make Illinois more competitive for business and employers.

Anyone with children has seen the messy room, the occasional tantrum when a child does not want to do what he or she has been asked to do, and the path of destruction left behind by that child. But all is not lost. There is still time and hope. Both bills still need the signature of Governor Rauner. Join other concerned constituents and call Governor Rauner’s office to demand that he veto these bills.

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G. Steven Murdock has been an attorney with Inman & Fitzgibbons for 20 years, a partner for 13 of those and named Vice President in 2015. He also serves as the firm’s liaison to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce’s Employment Law and Worker’s Compensation Committee and monitors and provides input on pending legislation in Springfield affecting our practice.

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