SPRINGFIELD — A prominent Democratic Illinois state lawmaker, who is now seeking his party's nomination as the state's next attorney general, has lined up behind new legislation intended to give the attorney general new powers to pursue businesses embroiled in wage disputes - new powers that will come at the expense of the state's Labor Department, according to business groups.
Illinois State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) is sponsoring legislation he said is needed to crack down on employers who violate the state's Prevailing Wage, Minimum Wage and Temporary Labor Services acts.
“We know there are workers who are getting their hard-earned wages taken from them by employers and violated in other ways,” Raoul said in a statement. “Valid claims should not get lost in bureaucratic red tape.”
Raoul added it makes no sense to have laws on the books to protect workers if government can’t enforce them.
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Raoul is running for the attorney general post currently held by Lisa Madigan, a Democrat who had served since 2003 and declined to pursue a fifth term. If elected, Raoul would wield the expanded powers proposed in SB 193.
The legislation, titled the “Attorney General Worker Protection” Bill, passed the Senate by a 35-16 vote and headed to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner on March 2 for signing.
Rauner, a Republican, is seeking reelection this year, as well. As governor, he oversees the state's Department of Labor.
Business groups, including the Illinois Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, have opposed the new law, and have asked Rauner to veto it.
Alicia Martin, president and CEO of the ABC Illinois Chapter, said the move would create a new worker protection unit at the Attorney General's Office.
"It takes a number of enforcements away from the Illinois Department of Labor," Martin said. "We would prefer they (the Attorney General's office) get their recommendations from the Department of Labor."
Prior to the legislation, an attorney general could file suit against an employer wage violator based on a referral from the state Department of Labor. SB 193 removes that hurdle and empowers an attorney general to bring suit directly against violators of the state’s labor laws.
SB 193 also calls for the creation of a task force to promote cooperation between the Attorney General’s office and state's attorneys in Illinois' counties in enforcing criminal violations of state labor laws.
Raoul worked with Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) to gain passage of the bill in the House. Hoffman in a statement said businesses who are accused of mistreating employees must be held accountable.
“This measure will give the Attorney General’s Office more tools to ensure that Illinois workers have a right to a safe work environment and that they receive their rightfully owed wages,” he said.