Thursday, June 21, 2012

IL Arbitrators In Crosshairs Again

Illinois has 11 arbitrators that are tasked with resolving disputes that arise in the state's workers' compensation system.

Over the past couple of years some arbitrators came under heat for conflict of interest and judicial misconduct: one who attempted to interfere with her own workers’ compensation claim and others who allegedly failed to adequately screen claims by state employees, in particular those of prison guards at the Menard Correctional Center. 

As a consequence, House Bill 1698, which took effect last year, terminated the appointments of all serving arbitrators on July 1, 2011. The legislation also provided that those serving would continue to serve until they were appointed to a new term or replaced.

Three new arbitrators were subsequently appointed: Gerald Granada, Oct. 14, 2011; Nancy Lindsay, Nov. 7, 2011; Brandon Zanotti, Feb. 6, 2012.

HB 1698 provided that in the future, arbitrators would be appointed initially by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate, rather than by the Workers' Compensation Commission.

However, the legislation provided that upon the expiration of an arbitrator’s term, the commission chairman “shall evaluate the performance of the arbitrator and may recommend that he or she be reappointed to a second or subsequent term by the full commission.”

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn now has on his desk HB 1084, by Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg. The bill deals with notes on legislative mandates affecting businesses, but was amended in the Senate to require that the governor reappoint arbitrators (with the advice and consent of the Senate) rather than by the commission.

The floor amendment was sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. The bill was passed, with the amendment, and sent to Gov. Pat Quinn (D) on June 15.

Quinn's Press Secretary, Annie Thompson, said in an email to WorkCompCentral that "we are aware of the legislation -- which seems to build on the success of the appoint(ment) process implemented last year -- and are reviewing (the bill). Having championed the workers’ compensation reforms, we are always open to finding ways to further increase transparency and oversight of the workers’ compensation process."

That sounds to me like the Governor is going to sign the bill.

It also sounds to me like a power grab for the Governor's office that doesn't belong there in the name of doing something about workers' compensation without really doing anything.

Illinois has been cleaning house, attempting to reel in its workers' compensation system. There were a series of "reform" bills over the past 24 months that made some radical changes to the system's culture, changes that many believe were not enough.

The legislation would change the process to require the chairman to recommend reappointments to the governor -- and make all appointments subject to Senate approval.

Illinois' workers' compensation dispute resolution system is small. There are only 11 arbitrators. While that makes the appointment process relatively manageable by the Governor's office, I think it also makes arbitrators vulnerable to political pressure and actually decreases transparency and accountability in my opinion.

Eugene Keefe, Chicago defense attorney with Keefe, Campbell and Associates, seems to agree, stating in his blog on Monday “we assume the supposed-reformer Governor may do what he always seems to do, fire a bunch of veteran administrators without any true reason other than to claim he is reforming something. He will then appoint and reappoint his trusted buddies to the positions for which they have little to no experience or background.”

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