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Jun 16

Workers comp, capital bill key at Chamber event

NORMAL — Republican lawmakers told local business leaders Thursday that the spring legislative session in Springfield featured a welcomed smattering of bipartisanship but left unfinished two issues critical to Illinois employers: workers compensation reform and the capital bill.

Lawmakers are likely headed back to Springfield next week to avoid a $30 million shutdown of state construction projects. During a flurry of legislative activity last month, the House refused to go along with $430 million in additional education and social services spending tacked onto the capital bill by Senate Democrats.

State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, told about 140 people at Thursday’s McLean County Chamber of Commerce State Legislative Update that lawmakers will pass either a six-month version of the capital bill, or agree on a full-year plan that includes an agreement to consider the $430 million down the road.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said “failure is not an option.” Officials have said the costly shutdown, which would have to be set in motion next week, would idle 52,000 workers. Illinois Chamber President Doug Whitley has previously called the threat of a shutdown “distressing and unacceptable.”

“We’re gonna get a capital bill implemented and going, because it’s too critically important when it comes to jobs,” said Rep. Brady, speaking along with six other Central Illinois Republican lawmakers at the McLean County Chamber’s event, held at Illinois State University’s Alumni Center. (The Chamber’s political action committee has made campaign contributions to both Bradys in the past.)

Rep. Brady also said he was disappointed in the outcome of efforts to reform the state’s workers comp system — often Exhibit A in descriptions of Illinois as unfriendly to businesses.

The overhaul passed last month would reduce medical fees by 30 percent, saving companies at least $500 million, and allows employers to organize medical networks for handling cases.

But Brady said the final bill, now awaiting the governor’s signature, didn’t address what’s called “primary causation,” which would essentially raise the burden-of-proof threshold for workplace liability. The overhaul added American Medical Association guidelines to state law to help determine impairment, but Brady said the guidelines ended up too “watered down.”

“If you call this ‘reform,’ it’s not reform,” he said. “It’s a step in the right direction, but time will tell.”

State Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, said an overlooked part of the recent state income tax hike was the return of Illinois’ estate tax, applied to the transfer of assets after death. Estates valued at less than $5 million are excluded from the federal estate tax, but the state’s threshold is only $2 million.

Barickman said that’s unfair to Illinois farmers, especially as farmland values soar.

“It puts a penalty on those who’ve succeeded in their small business and family,” he said.

State Rep. Keith Sommer, R-Morton, said he urged other businesses to follow the lead of Peoria-based Caterpillar, whose CEO earlier this year spoke publicly about his concerns with Illinois’ business climate.

“We need more of that,” Sommer said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reporter Ryan Denham can be reached at twitter.com/ryanpantagraph

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