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Thursday, July 12, 2012 02:04 am

Suing the state

Retirees file lawsuit

The state of Illinois has been sued by retired state workers who say that the state is illegally forcing retirees to pay health insurance premiums.

In the suit filed July 10 in Sangamon County Circuit Court, attorneys for five retired state workers say that a new state law calling for retirees to pay premiums violates the state constitution. The five workers together worked for the state for more than 125 years in agencies ranging from the Department of Corrections to the Department of Human Services.

The lawsuit follows a class-action lawsuit filed July 9 by Gordon Maag, a retired state appellate judge who also says that the state cannot force retirees to pay health-insurance premiums. The complaint filed Tuesday is also a class-action lawsuit.

Maag sued Gov. Pat Quinn and state treasurer Dan Rutherford. By contrast, the defendants in the lawsuit filed Tuesday include comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, the director of Central Management Services and the board of the State Employees’ Retirement System.

“We have a wider range of legal theories,” said John Myers, plaintiffs’ attorney.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday alleges four violations of the state constitution. The plaintiffs say that the new state law requiring premium payments is an attempt to unilaterally change a contract between retirees and the state. The plaintiffs also say that the new law violates a constitutional clause barring changes to pension benefits.

In the case of workers who took early retirement a decade ago, the law requiring premium payments is unconstitutional because it violates a promise made to employees who paid money to purchase pension benefits based on assurances of free health insurance, plantiffs allege. Finally, the plaintiffs say that the law is unconstitutional because it requires the director of Central Management Services to determine how much the state should contribute toward insurance premiums but provides no guidance on how to make that determination.

“When you delegate power to an administrative agency, it must be accompanied by intelligible standards,” Myers said.

The lawsuit filed Monday is on behalf of all state retirees, but that isn’t the case with the newest legal action, which is limited to retirees enrolled in the State Employment Retirement System and retirees who were merit compensation employees not covered by collective bargaining agreements. Myers said the smaller pool of plaintiffs is intended to simplify matters. He added that he believes that all retirees would ultimately receive the same benefits if plaintiffs in the newest lawsuit win.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.
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