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House Democrats approve workers’ comp changes; Rauner cries politics

SPRINGFIELD — Along strict party lines, House Democrats passed a workers’ compensation reform bill on Thursday, drawing a rebuke from Gov. Bruce Rauner, who said the bill “could actually undermine previous reform efforts.”

The bill drawn by Democrats passed 63-39, with four members voting present. No Republicans supported it.

Republicans painted the bill as a step backward when it comes to the budget stalemate. After the House session, Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, warned that Rauner won’t have the authority to spend money on executive agencies unless a spending plan is finalized, and the deficit is eliminated.

Earlier this week, Rauner announced statewide cuts affecting families, the poor and the elderly as well as the immediate shelving of the Illiana Expressway project and business incentives and film tax credits.

And despite many “cordial” discussions with Rauner, including a meeting Thursday morning, Madigan said Rauner’s focus on “non-budget issues” is “functioning on the extreme.”

“The solution to the budget deficit problem will be moderation, not in the extreme, and it requires that everybody be reasonable,” Madigan said. “To the extent that you are reducing wage levels, reducing the standard of living, you’re functioning on the extreme. You’re not functioning in moderation.”

Rauner issued a statement after Democrats pushed the bill through over GOP objections.

“Unsurprisingly, Speaker Madigan and the politicians he controls again ignored compromise reform proposals and instead voted to protect their special interest allies,” Rauner said. “This proposal ignores the most important reforms we need for our workers’ compensation system, and in another instance, could actually undermine previous reform efforts.

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

Before the vote, Rep. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) told the House the bill is meant to “embarrass the governor.”

“This is not a product of compromise,” Sandack said.

The GOP had earlier made its disdain for the workers’ compensation bill apparent from the outset. It passed a House Committee earlier Thursday, also with no Republican support.

“I’m not quite sure why we’re down here. This is not a good bill,” Republican Leader Jim Durkin said after reading a long list of business associations that oppose the bill, including the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. “I don’t believe you’re getting support on our side of the aisle.”

Madigan had called the reform bill a compromise with Rauner.

“The governor stated he believes this is one of the top issues, so we want to help him address it,” Madigan said in a statement Wednesday. “We believe workers assistance can be reformed without hurting middle-class families. Our reform legislation will ensure savings for employers while protecting the livelihoods of injured workers.”

The Democratic-led Labor And Commerce Committee recommended the bill be adopted on Thursday afternoon.

The bill changes the Workers’ Compensation Act and employer’s liability rates in an article of the Illinois Insurance Code. It includes safety programs and return to work programs, and a recalculation of premiums and a waiver of the self-insurers fee.

Changes in workers compensation is on Rauner’s “turnaround agenda.” He has said he wants less costly workers’ compensation insurance to make the state more competitive.

Madigan has said the governor’s version would hurt the middle class.

The House passed several amendments to the bill, including one that addressed causation — ensuring that the injury must have been caused during activities related to the employment.

House Republicans charged the amendment wasn’t a compromise, and would not benefit businesses. Hoffman said it would benefit workers and businesses.

Another amendment, which also passed 63-39, would address repetitive injuries. It would allow insurers to sue a previous employer for some of the costs.

“We’re taking something that’s relatively simple and complicating it,” said Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield), who added small businesses and insurers will have to go back and sue previous employers and will lead to more lawsuits.

A Senate panel last month voted down Rauner’s proposal to change workers’ compensation rules in Illinois, with Democrats pointing to reforms passed in 2011 and Republicans saying those did not go far enough.