IL Business’ WC Reform bill falls short in Senate vote

Two Senate workers’ compensation reform bills were presented to the full Illinois Senate for debate and vote on April 14, 2011, SB 1349 and SB1147. While Illinois employers scored a victory in the Senate with SB1147, the main WC reform efforts contained within SB1349 lost.

You may recall that following the highly publicized workers’ compensation claim filed by an Illinois State Trooper, who sustained injuries in a high-speed motor vehicle accident that resulted in the death of two teenage Collinsville sisters, state legislators agreed that the Act needed to be amended to prohibit certain employees from seeking to recover benefits under the Act. SB1147 was sponsored by two Collinsville area senators, William Haine (R-Alton) and Kyle McCarter (R-Highland) and was passed by unanimous decision, 59-0, on April 14, 2011. The bill now has been sent to the House Rules Committee for review and amendment, if any, before going before the full House for a vote. It is anticipated that this bill will also pass in the House with little resistance.

In short, SB1147 essentially amends the Act by amending the definition of “employee” to not include a person, or his or her dependents, if his or her accident was the result of the employee’s commission of a forcible felony, aggravated driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, or reckless homicide if that forcible felony, aggravated driving under the influence, or reckless homicide caused an accident resulting in the death or severe injury of another person. This would apply directly to the State Trooper case because that officer pled guilty to reckless homicide. Because of the nature of the exclusionary clause, this amendment has had little, if any, resistance by anyone.

SB1349, on the other hand, is a much more comprehensive reform bill including several changes to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, including adoption of a “primary cause” standard for causal connection between an accident and the injury, adoption of AMA guidelines to rate permanent partial disability, limitation on payment of wage differential benefits to the age of 67.5 years or 5 years of benefits, whichever is longer, and changes to the current Medical Fee Schedule to reduce the cap on medical benefits in Illinois. Because of its broad changes, many of which have received substantial opposition from organized labor, the medical providers and the petitioner’s attorneys, this bill failed to pass the Senate by 5 votes on April 14, 2011. The future of this bills is uncertain at this time.

Other news this week is that the House proposal sponsored by Representative John Bradley (D-Marion) to repeal the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and put workers’ compensation claims back into the circuit court system seems to be losing steam, if not completely lost its wheels. There is not much support from either party for this radical legislation due to the impact it would have on both employees and employers as well as the State of Illinois and its court systems.

We will continue to monitor the status of the pending legislation and keep you updated. If you have any questions or comments on this, we would love to hear from you.

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