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Workers’ comp reform plan: Destroy it

SPRINGFIELD — The old motto "If it's not broken, don't fix it" has apparently morphed at the state capital into "If it's broken, destroy it" — at least when it comes to the workers compensation system.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — The old motto "If it's not broken, don't fix it" has apparently morphed at the state capital into "If it's broken, destroy it" — at least when it comes to the workers compensation system.

After months of working to find agreement on possible reforms to Illinois' workers' compensation system, southern Illinois State Rep John Bradley, D-Marion, said he's scrapping the cooperative approach.

"The workers' comp system in Illinois broken," he said. "It's my belief that it's gotten to a point where the best thing to do is just abolish it, and send the cases back to circuit court."

Bradley's frustration was obvious at a Wednesday hearing in Springfield when he broke the news that it is his intention to start over with workers' comp.

"If at some point in the future we want to revisit, start a workers' comp commission, fine. But we can start from scratch," he said.

Workers' comp has become a focus for a number of groups at the Illinois Capitol this spring. The costs, which rank Illinois among the most expensive states for workers' comp, are blamed in part for the state's "bad for business" reputation.

Bradley had been trying to negotiate among labor unions, doctors and hospitals, insurance companies, trial lawyers, and business groups. The different groups all want something different, or don't want many changes at all.

Bradley said he's had enough.

"Let's get rid of the system that we know isn't working, lets try something new. … Let's make a stand together as legislators and say enough is enough," he said.

But enough may be too much for the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. One of the state's largest business groups, the group said they want changes to workers' comp, but not create an entirely new system, or have no system at all, said Jay Shattuck with the chamber.

"I would certainly agree that the workers' comp system is broken," Shattuck said. "Now throwing out the structure without (having) what we think is an adequate structure is not a solution either."

Bradley's burn-it-down strategy may be a sign of frustration, or may be a move to get recalcitrant Republicans toward an agreement. It may be working as well. Metro East freshman Dwight Kay, R-Glenn Carbon, said he's all for a bold plan. But isn't sure if Bradley's plan is the one.

"This system as I see it, can be fixed," Kay said. "If we had the political will and the determination, and frankly just the guts to stand-up and do it."

Gov. Pat Quinn, who has had to jump on the workers' comp reform bandwagon after getting scolded for the state's business climate recently, said he's not 100 percent behind Bradley's plan.

"We appreciate Rep. Bradley's active and constructive engagement on this complex issue. Governor Quinn has made workers' compensation reform a priority and has taken the lead on this issue," said spokeswoman Brie Callahan, "The governor has offered a proposal that will bring meaningful reform, and we continue to work to achieve workers compensation reform this session."

Bradley's proposal is headed for a vote in the Illinois House.

 

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