Friday, February 20, 2015

Buffalos in Illinois

My daughter and I flew N6641M to Catalina Island yesterday.

Catalina/Avalon airport is 24 miles as the Bonanza flies from Los Angeles Harbor and is, I think, one of those magical places that few ever get to experience.

My daughter was excited to see a few of the famous Catalina buffalo. She asked the airport manager on duty when we checked in if there were any around.

"There were quite a few roaming near the airport yesterday," he said. So we paid our fees and hiked the Airport Soapstone loop - a short 2.3 mile walk without a whole lot of elevation change.

The airport is at 1,600 feet above mean sea level, so the vistas are spectacular, and the nearly unspoiled environment served up red tailed hawks feeding, wild flowers blooming, and a soapstone quarry.

But no buffalos. There was plenty of buffalo evidence and a couple were large enough for discus throws, which of course was tempting, except for the relative freshness of the discs.

In workers' compensation several states serve up more buffalo discs than others.


Illinois is the one state that has a workers' compensation system as much maligned as California's.

And like California, political attempts to "reform" it focus on costs arising out of the symptoms rather than the underlying "disease" that gives rise to the symptoms.

Newly-elected Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner made workers' compensation reform a center-piece of his campaign, albeit with little detail, but his fellow Republicans in the legislature have some ideas.
In search of buffalo.

A legislative package, filed by Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Decatur and Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Edwardsville, would, among other things, tighten the rules governing compensation for travel-related accidents, place a 500-week limit on cumulative awards for partial disabilities, reclassify shoulder and hip injuries and define the term "injury" so that claimants would have to prove they are medically impaired to "a reasonable degree of medical certainty, based on the medical findings."

The new definitions are included in Senate Bill 770 and its companion, House Bill 2421, and some companion bills (see below).

Supporters of these bills refer to them as the "causation" bills because the bills try to more tightly define what a work injury is by calling an "accident" an "occurrence arising out of the employment, resulting from a risk incident to the employment, and in the course of employment at a time and place and under circumstances reasonably required by the employment."

SB 770 and HB 2421 also would require workers to show that an "accidental compensable injury" was a major contributing cause of the injury – meaning it was more than 50% responsible for the injury compared to all other causes combined for which treatment and benefits are sought.

The two bills also provide that injuries would be deemed to include the aggravation of a preexisting condition only for as long as the aggravation continues to be the contributing cause of the disability.

Also included in the Kay/McCarty package are:

SB 769 and HB 2419 , which covers instances in which an employee is working for multiple employers and the employers named as a respondent in the claim is aware of the worker's other jobs. Under the bills, the worker's wages from all of the jobs would be considered as being earned from the employer deemed liable for the injury.

SB 771 and HB 2420 would bar temporary partial disability benefits to workers discharged for cause. Claimants would be entitled to a hearing to restore benefits before the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission and would receive retroactive benefits if the commission rules that worker was not fired for cause. "Discharge for cause" is defined as a discharge resulting from an employee's voluntary violation of a rule or policy not caused by his or her disability.

SB 772 and HB 2422 would limit the maximum cumulative compensation for workers receiving partial disability to 500 weeks. Awards for partial disability would be deducted from any award for a subsequent injury to the same portion of the body. In addition, injuries to the shoulder would be considered injuries to part of the arm and injuries to the hip would be considered injuries to part of the leg.

Seems to me that these bills would simply invite a large dosage of litigation to define what the definitions actually mean when applied to real live facts of a case.

But this is politics, and the point of politics is to propose something that might be distasteful to some in order to get an advantage on something else that may or may not be related.

And with Democrats solidly holding majorities in Illinois' Senate and House, Republican's know they have an uphill battle if they don't compromise on some other topic.

The opinion from business groups is that Rauner may offer an increase in the state's minimum wage as a bargaining chip to pass workers' compensation legislation. Rauner also announced a budget Wednesday that calls for cutting state spending by $6.7 billion, which also may enter into the political debate over business reforms according to sources interviewed by WorkCompCentral.

And we also know that what gets introduced into a legislative session is far different than what ultimately makes it to the governor's desk, if at all. Similar legislation has failed to clear the General Assembly since 2011.


We didn't see any buffalo on our hike and I didn't toss any discs.

So my daughter and I lunched at the DC-3 restaurant at the airport.

We both ordered buffalo burgers.

They were good.

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