Senate Week in Review

Politics
December 26, 2014
[By: Sen. Kyle McCarter]

Critical issues: Looking back and ahead

2014 is coming to a close; and from a legislative perspective, it’s a perfect time to “turn the page” and begin anew in 2015. A new General Assembly of Senators and Representatives takes the Oath of Office next month, and so will the new Constitutional officers including the Governor.

Illinois’ Economic Ranking

One issue needing attention next year is the state’s economy. At best, the climate for business growth and job creation has been poor. Earlier this year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conducted a study rating Illinois 46th among the 50 states for economic performance. The report ranks the state 48th for economic outlook. I think we can turn that forecast around.

ALEC, a nationwide association of state legislators, looked at a number of economic factors between 2002 and 2012 for their study. Anyone who’s watched his or her family members or neighbors lose their jobs, businesses close their doors or saw college graduates move to another state for employment opportunities understands there is reality behind the cold numbers.

Reform Leads to Improvement

One aspect of the business/jobs climate that needs reform is the Workers’ Compensation System. As a manufacturer, I understand why the system was created and how it works in addition to the real-world consequences of its failures and successes. Since first coming to the Illinois Senate, I have pushed for reform that would lead to a fair system that protects workers injured on the job and improves our business climate. Instead, our current system is adversarial. It pits employers against employees in a way that both delays diagnoses and treatment for employees who truly suffer an on-the-job injury and causes direct harm to employers.

A simple reform of the system can lead to huge savings for employers and ultimately better protection for workers. “Primary causation” must be addressed in 2015 if we are serious about dealing with the state’s stagnant economy. Primary causation should mean actual injuries that occur at the workplace and are caused by the workplace. That seems like simple common sense but that’s not how Illinois’ Workers’ Compensation regulations are currently written. In fact, in Illinois a worker doesn’t have to prove his or her injury occurred on the job. It’s a situation that leaves the employer on the hook for an ankle sprain, a pulled muscle or broken bone caused by a weekend ballgame or slip and fall at home that doesn’t get reported until the employee is at work.

The fair and common sense change in the definition of the cause of a workplace injury could save Illinois employers $1 billion a year. These are financial resources that could go to business expansion and job growth.

Earlier this year details of a 2012 study (latest available) was released by the State of Oregon. It showed Illinois with the fourth highest workers’ compensation insurance rates in the country. A closer-to-home comparison reveals Illinois’ Worker’s Compensation rates are three times higher than Indiana and two times higher than Missouri. Our employers can’t compete with their border state counterparts. That means our businesses can’t grow or hire, which diminishes opportunities for working families.

Equitable reforms guarantee protections for workers needing help when they are injured on the job and improve Illinois’ business climate by reducing the underlying cost of doing business. Workers, employers and even taxpayers have something to win when it comes to workers’ compensation reform. Common sense reforms would take the shackles off our economy and provide better care for workers who are injured on the job. For more information on my Worker’s Compensation position, watch my Youtube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkF3zx0JY4Q&feature=youtu.be
End Roadblocks to Economic Growth

I have other concerns related to the state’s struggling business climate such as the never-ending trend in Springfield to pile on regulation after regulation and mandate after mandate, on the backs of our job creators. The cost of hiring and keeping good workers continues to rise due to these punishing policies. Unfortunately, the promoters of these ideas act as if the historic decline in our workforce and dismal job creation levels in recent years have never happened. Our friends and neighbors and family members are paying the price for a weak job market.

An example of wrong-headed policies occurred during the last week of the fall Veto Session. The Senate approved a bill that would require businesses with 25 or more employees to create Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) for their employees and then withhold 3% from their employees’ paychecks to fund the accounts. While well-intentioned arguments were made the fact is employees can already open an IRA accounts and save for their own futures.

Requiring employers to be involved adds costs to company bottom lines that the companies may not be able to afford. Employers will have to hire accountants or accounting services to oversee implementation, not to mention the time taken away from actually producing a product or providing a service to their customers.

Another concern I have about the proposal is while a business owner would not be involved in selecting or managing the IRA plan, responsibility would be left to a state board to handle. That doesn’t create a lot of confidence. Given the state’s dismal record of handling state employees’ pension funds, why would an employee at a local business be confident the state is the best choice to manage their account?

It’s important that as we move into the new year we “turn the page” on policies that have not been good for our business/jobs climate. In the coming weeks, I’ll have more to discuss in this column about my hopes and expectations for the new year.