SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – The "grand bargain" budget proposal in the Illinois General Assembly is light on reforms, especially tort reform, that would help provide the state with a path to economic growth, a legal reform advocate said.
"The pathway to economic growth is a reduction in spending and the adoption of key business reforms such as lawsuit reform," Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch Director Travis Akin said in an email interview with the St. Louis Record. "Every year, venue reform legislation and other lawsuit reforms are introduced but the leadership in the House and the Senate never lets these bills see the light of day. It should not take a 'grand bargain' for the legislature to do the right thing, but if that is what it takes to get these reforms passed then so be it. Lawsuit reform is what Illinois needs now more than ever. We need jobs – not lawsuits."
As of Friday, the reform-poor "grand bargain" compromise budget deal, hammered out last month by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), was on the verge of collapse. With the Senate returning Tuesday, a full week before the House is scheduled to return to Springfield on March 7, there might a calm that will focus hearts and minds, according to the Chicago Tribune's editorial board.
"Gov. Bruce Rauner has outlined what he'd like to see in a final deal," the Chicago Tribune editorial board said in an op-ed published Friday. "The compromise could end the budget standoff and include items on his agenda — freezing property taxes and passing pension reform. But it's unclear if his suggestions have been folded into the proposed deal's 12 bills."
The "grand bargain" isn't the only budget proposal in Springfield. Another plan, which would impose no taxes but would include many reforms, has been floated in Springfield but is being largely ignored.
That plan has gained little traction, but the ideas behind it have gotten some attention. During his budget address on Feb. 15, Rauner urged state lawmakers to develop a "grand bargain" deal that will include reforms along with tax increases. Rauner said during his address that he will be willing to sign a "grand bargain" that includes those details.
Illinois' neighboring states understand the need for changes, especially tort reform, Akin said.
"In Missouri, the legislature understands the link between job growth and the litigation climate, which is why they are moving quickly to enact lawsuit reforms," he said.
Meanwhile in Illinois, tort reform continues to languish, Akin said.
"The Illinois way of ignoring lawsuit reform, doubling down on tax increases and the over-regulation of businesses is driving jobs and opportunities away from Illinois," he said. "The end result is one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. Only five states and the District of Columbia have a higher unemployment rate than Illinois."
Akin also cited the 2015 Lawsuit Climate Survey conducted by Harris Poll, which listed Illinois No. 48, behind only Louisiana and West Virginia, with the least fair and reasonable litigation environments. The poll found that Chicago, greater Cook County and Madison County had little or no venue requirements.
"More than 75 percent of the business leaders surveyed by Harris Poll for this report said lawsuit climate is a 'significant factor' in determining where to expand and grow," Akin said.
The answer to the problems in Illinois is lawsuit reform, he said.
"Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed common-sense lawsuit reform legislation that includes a proposal that will stop personal injury lawyers from shopping around for the friendliest court jurisdiction, even if the lawsuit has nothing to do with that jurisdiction," Akin said. "This practice, often called ‘venue shopping,’ is all too common in Illinois."