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Election Time!!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014, is United States General Election Day, including gubernatorial elections. Thirty-six states and three territories will elect a new governor on this day, Illinois being among them. Elections are notorious for being fiercely fought and immersed in controversy, with some ending in landslide victories and others decided by the narrowest of margins. The current horse-race in Illinois, between incumbent governor Pat Quinn (D) and Republican candidate Bruce Rauner, has proven to be no less harsh than some of the most cut-throat presidential races of our nation's history, as Illinois constituents watch in anticipation from the side-lines.

Although a key theme of the primary campaign season was how to handle the government employee unions vis-a-vis Illinois' pension crisis, the election race has also focused on issues that would affect business owners and all working employees, specifically the injured employee. Governor Pat Quinn has already announced that workers' compensation insurance rates will be dropping 5.5% next year and that if enacted, the reduction would be the third in a row since workers' compensation reforms were enacted in 2011, and would represent a cumulative 18 percent cut since then. Nevertheless, Bruce Rauner argues that Illinois workers' compensation costs remain too high, and further reforms are necessary. Rauner's plan, if elected, is to make Illinois more business-friendly and reform the workers' compensation system to make Illinois more competitive with neighboring states. He argues that the recent changes cut payments per claim just 1 percent, leaving costs here as much as twice as high as in adjoining states. He specifically compared Illinois to Indiana, saying "workers comp costs five times as much in Illinois as it does in Indiana and we've been quietly shifting our jobs out of Illinois...and hiring in Indiana and reducing our job base in Illinois..." His focus seems to be on providing incentives for local business owners to remain in Illinois, and keeping them from relocating to a lower tax-based state.

How is this reform plan to be implemented if Bruce Rauner is elected, and what does it really mean for the injured employee? Mr. Rauner famously jumped into hot water when he pledged at a Downstate candidates' forum that if elected governor he would slash the state's minimum wage by $1 to make it equal to the federal rate in an effort to make Illinois more economically competitive. He further qualified this statement, clarifying that he wanted to tie in the Illinois state minimum wage with the Federal levels, whatever they were, in order to make Illinois more competitive. He further reassured that he would support an increase in Federal Minimum Wage to $10 per hour, thereby also raising the Illinois state minimum wage. However, he emphasized that any increase in minimum wage will only be supported if reforms are made to Illinois Workers' Compensation system.

A part of the reform he targets is "causation." Causation is a legal standard that requires injured employees filing work comp claims to prove their injury happened on the job. As it stands, the employee is only required to prove that the accident was a "contributing," or "aggravating factor," of their injured condition, but if the work comp overhaul succeeds, the standard would be that the work accident was the sole cause of the injured employee's condition. Mr. Rauner also believes that injuries sustained during a work commute should not be considered compensable.

Furthermore, Rauner has made more than one direct comparison to Indiana's workers' compensation system. One of the main and glaring differences between Indiana's and Illinois' work comp system is choice of doctor. In Illinois, if an employee is injured on the job, he has his initial choice of two doctors. Those doctors must then refer him to other doctors if he needs additional treatment. If he goes to a third doctor without a referral, he has violated the "two-doctor" rule and that doctor will not be covered. In Indiana, if an employee is injured on the job, the Indiana Workers Compensation Act provides that employers/insurers may direct the care. This means they decide which doctor the employee goes to for treatment. (Workers' Compensation Board of Indiana, 2014).

Additionally, in Illinois, if an employee is injured on the job, she has 45 days to report the injury to her employer. She is eligible for wage loss benefits if she is off work for at least three days. Her benefits are based on her average weekly wage, subject to minimums and maximums. Her minimum benefit rate, if she is entitled to workers compensation benefits for lost wages as a result of her work injury, is $220.00, and her maximum rate is $1,341.07. (Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission, 2014).

In Indiana, the injured employee has only 30 days to report an injury to his employer. He is eligible for wage loss benefits if he is off work for at least seven days. As for wage loss benefits, there is no minimum and the maximum is $650.00. (Workers' Compensation Board of Indiana, 2014). These are only a few of the differences between Indiana and Illinois.

As for tort reform, at this point his website merely indicates he intends to limit lawsuit abuse.

Whether Rauner, if elected, succeeds in getting any of his desired pro-business reforms largely depends upon negotiations with a Democrat-controlled legislature. Nonetheless, his position and where he will place his persuasion is clear.

Caveat suffragator!

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