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Illinois Chamber’s Legislative Initiatives For 2013

Illinois Chamber’s Legislative Initiatives For 2013

Below is the first part of a two part series highlighting the Illinois Chamber’s legislative initiatives for 2013.

 Stop Lawsuit “Loansharking”

Lawsuit lending, also known as “Lawsuit Loansharking” is when lenders seek out plaintiffs with promising pending lawsuits and offers them up front cash to cover immediate living or medical expenses while they are engaged in a lawsuit and await settlement.  These third party loans are targeted through aggressive marketing ads to those with no financial support, who are injured or unable to work, or who have substantial medical bills.  Loan repayment is contingent upon the plaintiff’s recovery of the case, but is often repaid with sky-high interest rates leaving no money left over for the victorious plaintiff.

The immediate implications of lawsuit lending have the potential to devastate the civil justice system, crowd court dockets, and greatly increase costs to unsuspecting consumers.  Not to mention, lawsuit lending is undercutting client control and diminishing attorneys’ independence.  Attorneys engaged in lawsuit lending seek control over strategic decisions in litigation in order to prosecute lawsuits in their own interests, even if those interests diverge from those of the plaintiffs.

The Illinois Chamber, the U.S Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, and consumer advocacy groups across the nation are promoting legislation that would actually protect consumers and curb lending abuses by bringing lawsuit lending into alignment with existing state law.  HB 2300 is the Illinois Chamber’s initiative in Illinois that will stop the abusive use of lawsuit lending by placing reasonable regulation on the lawsuit lending industry and make it clear that such loans are regulated under the existing Consumer Installment Loan Act (CILA).  By placing lawsuits under CILA the practice will be allowed to continue, but with consumer protections including interest rate caps.

 Workers’ Compensation Reform

In 2011, the Illinois General Assembly took positive steps to improve the Illinois Workers’ Compensation system by adding new cost saving provisions.  However, it still has yet to meet the test of truly reforming the states’ workers’ compensation law.  The 2011 bill did not guarantee employer cost reductions through a higher causation threshold, it did not provide for strict use of AMA guidelines in determining the extent of an injured workers’ permanent partial disability, and it lacked strong employer directed medical care networks.  As other states are making progressive strides in reducing costs in their WC systems, Illinois’ system continues to be out of the mainstream of the country as high cost to Illinois employers.

The Illinois Chamber’s workers’ compensation reform initiative legislation, SB 1429, accomplishes the necessary reform to move our state forward.  From the business community to Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, both believe in establishing a higher causation standard.  For example, once an employee establishes causation, the employer is liable for the costs for all resulting care and disability.  Under current Illinois law, the employer is responsible for entire medical costs for pre-existing conditions or if the workplace only contributed in 0.01% to the cause of injury.  SB 1429 contains recommendations from the Attorney General’s office on reforms involving cases with a subsequent injury to a body part for which the employee has already been compensated.  This permanency award must be based on evidence of the employees’ resulting permanent disability, regardless of whether that will result in the employee receiving more money for the loss of use of that body part.  SB 1429 also grants employers credit for “person as a whole” awards if the employee’s subsequent injury is to the same body part as the prior injury.  Finally, SB 1429 stops the abuses caused by the average weekly wage calculation by providing an accurate reflection of the injured workers’ actual or projected earnings.

 Streamlining Asbestos Regulations

Asbestos is considered a hazardous air pollutant under U.S EPA’s National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) regulations, which were developed pursuant to the federal Clean Air Act.  The Illinois EPA (IEPA) is the only state agency delegated authority by the U.S EPA to enforce asbestos-related activities.

The State of Illinois currently has three different statutes implemented by two different state agencies pertaining to asbestos regulation.  The IEPA and the Department of Public Health have both developed their own regulations, employ their own inspectors, and engage in asbestos-related enforcement.  The discrepancies within each agency in regards to regulations are creating a great deal of confusion for business owners.

The Illinois Chamber’s SB 1961 aims at streamlining these duplicative and contradictory regulations from the Department of Health by consolidating the state’s regulation of asbestos to the IEPA.  This legislation also brings Illinois’ regulatory structure back in compliance with U.S NESHAP regulations which grant sole authority of asbestos remediation to the IEPA.  The bill also provides for a more efficient structure by cutting red tape while not lessening the requirements imposed under the Clean Air Act and the NESHAP.

 Market-Based Health Benefits Exchange

SB 1717 authorizes the formal establishment of an Illinois Health Benefits Exchange from a state-federal partnership.  In order for the state to assume responsibility for a state-level exchange in 2015, Illinois must enact this legislation now.  The Illinois Chamber of Commerce supports this measure because it will provide for a market-based approach to coverage, while specifically meeting the needs of the State.  SB 1717 maintains current law provisions requiring the operating of two separate coverage pools for individuals and employees, transitions the current Illinois Health Benefits Exchange Legislative Study Committee into a legislative oversight committee, and requires a dissolution plan for the Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan (CHIP).  This bill also maintains small group exchange eligibility to employers with fewer than 50 employees, while expanding to employers with fewer than 100 employees in 2016.  SB1717 also establishes a governance board, subjected to General Assembly approval, all while ensuring that the Exchange Board does not duplicate or replace regulatory authority granted to the Department of Insurance, DHFS, and DPH.  State establishment legislation will allow Illinois to apply for Level Two federal funding to support it through the first year.

For questions on this issue, feel free to contact our Health Care Council Executive Director, Laura Minzer at lminzer@ilchamber.org.

Protecting Property Taxpayers And Taxing District Budgets

HB 2901 protects refund monies due to commercial and industrial taxpayers who challenge property tax assessments they believe to be inaccurate and gives new fiscal tools to local taxing districts faced with substantial refunds when a large commercial or industrial taxpayer successfully challenges their property tax assessment.

HB 2901 will now require commercial and industrial taxpayers to notify local taxing districts when they file objections to a property tax assessment and seek review by the Property Tax Appeal Board or in circuit court– thereby putting districts on notice that some or all of the monies received may need to be refunded if the taxpayer’s appeal is successful.  Local taxing districts are given the discretionary authority to place some or all of the disputed tax in their reserve fund pending the outcome of the litigation.

Under current law, property tax refunds due to assessment challenges are now paid out of current collections, since the law provides no other source.   Timeframes for assessment litigation can vary and taxing districts cannot always anticipate when a large refund will come due.  As a result, in the year a refund is due the taxing districts receive less than they lawfully levied for their overall operations and because of PTELL no further levy can be made that year to make up for the amount that has to be refunded.

HB 2901 protects commercial and industrial taxpayers by providing a method for recouping property tax overpayments without negatively impacting taxing district operations in future years.  It provides an equitable and just process for protecting commercial and industrial taxpayers as well as taxing districts while protecting the right to appeal assessments.

Any questions on this Chamber initiative, contact Connie Beard at cbeard@ilchamber.org.

Reduce Exposure To Identify Theft

According to the GAO, the three key pieces of information most sought after by identity thieves are a person’s name, date of birth, and Social Security number. Due to the increase in cyber identity theft, the hacking of government databases through simple employee mistakes can result in the distribution of Social Security numbers, causing an identity crisis. SB 2243 aims at eliminating the requirement in the Retailers’ Occupation Tax Act (ROTA) that corporate officers must submit their personal Social Security number on the ROTA registration forms. Current Illinois law requires corporations completing a registration form for sales tax are already supplying a substantial amount of identifying information to the Department of Revenue, including but not limited to: their corporate federal tax employer’s ID#, Secretary of State ID#, and the home address, date of birth, home phone, and personal Social Security numbers for the corporation’s President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Requiring a corporate officer’s personal Social Security number does not enhance the collection or administration of the sales tax for companies and is an unnecessary exposure of key information that has been actively targeted in other states. SB2243 is a preemptive measure to protect the identities of Illinois’ businesses.

Any questions on this Chamber initiative, contact Connie Beard at cbeard@ilchamber.org.

End Abuse Of Whistleblower Lawsuits

Illinois has recently seen an increase in the amount of private whistleblower cases filed under the Illinois False Claims Act (IFCA). Due to the fact that Illinois does not exempt sales and excise taxes from the scope of the IFCA, these false claims lawsuits bypass the Department of Revenue and allows for private persons to bring these claims for civil lawsuits against businesses. Private plaintiffs brining these lawsuits generally reap substantial rewards, providing an incentive for plaintiffs to pursue weak or meritless claims in unsettled areas of the law in order to coerce settlements through the threat of expensive litigation. HB74 creates a new procedure for reporting false claims relating to tax matters to the Department of Revenue and the Attorney General, which will eliminate the current rash of abusive private enforcement actions while preserving the true intent of the law.

Any questions on this Chamber initiative, contact Connie Beard at cbeard@ilchamber.org.

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