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Eight Hours, And Workers' Comp Is Still Unresolved

Amanda Vinicky

Illinois just overhauled its workers' compensation system in 2011, but lawmakers are considering further changes at the behest of businesses and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. The full Illinois House spent much of Tuesday in a rare, full committee meeting focused on workers' compensation. But they didn't vote.

Businesses say workers' comp is one of their biggest competitive disadvantages compared with companies in neighboring states.

That's why it's at the top of Gov. Rauner's so-called Turnaround Agenda. The Republican proposes narrowing who's eligible for workers' compensation benefits, and lowering what doctors get paid when taking on work comp cases. He also says a minimum wage hike is contingent on getting it done.

Rauner's calls for change prompted House Speaker Michael Madigan to to call a "committee of the whole," a rare arrangement in which the full House hears from witnesses, rather than a smaller committee (the last was held the summer of 2008 when legislators were battling with then Gov. Rod Blagojevich over the state budget).

Representatives heard from people like Keith Price, who'd been working on the South Side of Chicago when he got hurt.

"I’m missing my right leg below the knee. I got hurt, I got throwed from a forklift at work. Something was messed up with the forklift," Price said.

Price, through tears, says now he can't work; he says he needed all of the benefits he got, and more. Critics say lawmakers should wait because all of the 2011 changes still haven't taken effect. They also question if Rauner's proposal will hurt employees, just to pad business owners' pockets.

The Illinois Manufacturers' Association's Greg Baise says businesses are not out to diminish workers' benefits. "I think a goal ought to be that workers' compensation costs are no longer a reason cited by my members when they're looking to move somewhere else in the country to be competitive. That out to be our goal."

But critics say Rauner's proposal would hurt workers; they say doctors won't be willing to take on workers' compensation cases if Illinois cuts physicians' fees. They also say his plan would make it easier to get employers off the hook for paying claims.

Despite questioning witnesses and listening to their testimony for nearly eight hours, the House didn't actually vote - there isn't even yet any legislation on which legislators can vote, as Rauner's proposal has not yet been introduced in bill form. Just before 8 p.m., when the committee of the whole disbanded, a Republican lawmaker requested that the full House meet again on workers' compensation, to hear from more business interests.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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