Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, on Wednesday presented four bills aimed at reforming the state’s workers’ compensation system.
Similar to his asbestos “double-dipping” measure that was heard in the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, Kay’s workers’ comp bills were not called to a vote, but did garner brief testimony in the Labor & Commerce Committee. It is unclear when, or if, they will be called to a committee vote.
The bills Kay presented to the committee this week -- House Bills 1245, 1246, 2229 and 2769 -- represent four of nine measures he introduced this session that deal with the state’s workers comp system.
They are also part of a larger GOP-backed “pro-growth jobs” legislative package that proposes changes to the tort and tax systems, as well to the state’s regulations on businesses, in attempt to create more jobs and make Illinois more competitive with its neighboring states.
If the battle over workers’ comp reform that took place in 2011 is any indication, Kay’s measures will likely face some resistance.
The four bills he presented this week received mixed reactions as groups like the Illinois Trial Lawyers’ Association (ITLA) and Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois (AFFI) voiced opposition to some while business groups and associations that represent municipalities offered their support on others.
The ITLA and AFFI, as well as a few other groups, voiced opposition to HB2229, which would amend the Workers’ Compensation and the Workers’ Occupational Diseases acts to create “certain rebuttable presumptions regarding certain conditions of a firefighter, emergency medical technician (EMT), or paramedic.”
Among other changes, HB2229 would add language to the acts to make their provisions applicable to an EMT or paramedic cross-trained as a firefighter, instead of any EMT or paramedic.
Kay told that committee that under current law, EMT’s are categorized the same as firefighters for the purpose of buying workers’ comp insurance. His bill would also delete language that includes blood borne pathogens and tuberculosis as conditions to which those provisions apply to.
“I feel like that’s unjust because EMT’s do nothing like firefighters,” he said.
Eddy Crews, a legislative representative for the AFFI, testified that his group is “adamantly opposed” to Kay’s bill.
He said his group is currently negotiating a similar bill in the Senate sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, who Crews said, asked the AFFI to consider language to address concerns of a certain private ambulance company.
In response, Kay said he is unaware of any Illinois EMT who has died in the line of duty and that categorizing EMT’s the same way as firefighters places “an undue burden” on counties and villages throughout the state.
“Quite frankly, it makes no sense to me whatsoever,” Kay said, adding that municipalities are “paying five times the amount they should for workers’ comp insurance and I think that’s wrong.”
Kay also presented HB2769 to the committee this week. This bill would change the way compensation is computed when an employee making a workers’ comp claim sustained a previous injury that resulted in the payment of compensation for a percentage of partial disability.
Under HB2769, the previous percentage of partial disability would be deducted from any award for a subsequent injury to the same portion of the body that was involved in the prior injury.
In addition to other changes,Kay's bill states that "nothing in those provisions permits cumulative awards for compensation for partial disability to exceed 500 weeks, which shall constitute complete loss of use of the body as a whole."
Kay said his legislation aims to correct the results of “a bad decision that came out of arbitration in Northern Illinois” in the case of Will County Forest District v. Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.
“In short, what we are ending up with here are arbitrators who are extending man-as-a-whole beyond 100 percent,” he said. “That’s a very dangerous situation.”
Margo Ely, director of legal, human resources and risk management for the City of Naperville, testified in support of Kay’s measure. Other supporters of HB2769 include the Illinois Municipal League and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Ely told the committee that the City of Naperville has more than 900 employees and spends about $1.5 million a year on compensation, either in time off, medical expense payments and lump sum settlements.
Workers’ compensation, she said, “is not supposed to be lucrative. It’s supposed to just make them whole.”
“This particular bill is a step in the right direction,” she said.
Kay also briefly discussed House Bills 1245 and 1246.
HB1245 would provide that appeals over decisions of the Workers’ Compensation Commission on compensation of a state employee’s claim could be made in circuit court.
HB1246 would require the Department of Central Management Services to charge the employing state agency for workers’ compensation payments for medical expenses and temporary total disability paid to an employee. Current law only does this in certain situations dealing with temporary total disability payments.
Legislation can found on the Illinois General Assembly's website at ilga.gov.