Workers' Comp Hearing A "dog and pony show...on something that ain't going to matter anyway"

Nov 28, 2016

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner continues to demand legislators lower what businesses have to pay for injured workers. House Democrats scheduled a hearing on the subject Monday, and yet Rauner's fellow Republicans wanted nothing to do with it.

When is a company on the hook to compensate an injured worker, and for how much?

These are central questions in the partisan dispute that's held up a state budget.

Legislation encapsulating Gov. Rauner's preferred plan has sat idle for a year-and-a-half.

But after he recently asked Democratic leaders to take another look at the issue, the House obliged by scheduling a hearing on the bill.

Not so fast, say Republicans. They say they've moved on, and want to work behind closed doors on a compromise. The committee, they say, is just a sham.

Democrats persisted anyway, and used the chance to criticize Rauner's plan as unfair to workers.

But Chicago Rep. Luis Arroyo evidently didn't get the memo. He seemed to take a page from Republicans' playbook instead.

"We shouldn't have this dog and pony show to stand here and talk to everybody all day on something that ain't going to matter anyway," he said. "Let's not play no games. I drove three and a half hours today in the rain, for three and a half hours, thinking that something was going to happen on this bill. And now you guys are telling me that nothing's happening .... I didn't come here to waste my time today."

Lawmakers didn't vote, but they did spend hours hearing testimony on workers' compensation.

Rauner says he'll negotiate on a state budget if, and only if, lawmakers first make significant changes that will save businesses money.

Legislators overhauled workers compensation in 2011. Jay Shattuck with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce says that made a dent, but Illinois' system is still too expensive.

"From the business community standpoint, 2011 was a good start. We have, um, had, some savings. Which we are glad to have," Shattuck said. "But we're not in a static environment. Other states have been aggressively looking at workers' compensation reforms and have passed legislation and enacted laws that have helped their businesses in their communities also to have lower workers' comp costs."

Democrats, however, say they won't make it harder for injured workers to get compensated by their employers, under a principle known as causation.

They say insurers are pocketing savings from the 2011 law, and any new law should be focused on getting the insurance industry to share those savings with the businesses who buy their policies.