There are many problems facing the state of Illinois right now. There is a backlog of $8.5 billion unpaid bills and the state's unemployment rate is higher than any of our neighboring states.
Lawmakers cannot control the national economy, but they can enact legislation to create an environment more conducive to job growth. One significant step forward would be to enact meaningful lawsuit reforms. Illinois continues to attract lawsuits from all across the country and is one of the worst states in the country for legal fairness. In fact, a recent study from the Harris Survey Company ranked Illinois 45th out of all 50 states for legal fairness.
Being ranked fifth-worst in the country for legal fairness makes it hard to attract businesses to our state at a time when Illinois desperately needs to be creating jobs, not lawsuits. Legislatures in other Midwestern states like Wisconsin and Minnesota have passed lawsuit reforms recently with the stated intent of attracting new businesses, yet despite the problems that exist in Illinois our state leaders continue to ignore this issue.
As the mayor of a community here in Illinois, I can report that lawsuit abuse impacts not only the jobs climate but also has an impact on local governments and taxpayers. Municipal governments very often are the target of litigation because local governments are perceived as soft targets. As a result of high insurance deductibles, it often is cheaper to settle a lawsuit than it is to fight it, but settling lawsuits can open the door for even more litigation to be filed.
Money communities spend on litigation is money that would otherwise go to schools, police, parks and a host of other valuable services. At a time when communities are already struggling to pay for basic city services, the last place they need to be expending taxpayer dollars is on litigation. The amount of money spent on litigation is never going to be zero, but one thing state lawmakers can do to help struggling communities is to make lawsuit reform a priority.
I recently participated in a forum with other mayors and business leaders from all across Southern Illinois to discuss the impact of abusive lawsuits on the economy and on our communities. The theme of the forum was "Create Jobs, Not Lawsuits."
That is exactly what our state legislators could do by finally passing common sense lawsuit reforms – create jobs and cut lawsuits. The lawsuit abuse problem in Illinois is real and the need to fix it is also real. Other states have passed lawsuit reforms, so why can't Illinois?
My message to Springfield is simple: Help communities like mine create jobs by passing lawsuit reforms now.