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Op-Ed: Stacked cost is a grim reaper for Illinois small businesses

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Once a thriving state known for its entrepreneurial spirit, Illinois is now witnessing a devastating phenomenon: stacked costs squeezing the life out of small businesses. Having run a manufacturing operation in Rockford for many years, I’ve watched lawmakers in Springfield methodically dismantle our pro-business environment to make room for their bureaucratic “utopia.”

Well, the results are in, and they aren’t pretty.

Put simply, we’re in a spot where continuing down the current path isn’t sustainable or desirable. It’s becoming too costly to effectively compete with other states and countries. And for some reason, lawmakers are going out of their way to make things even more expensive.

Just look at some policies from the recent legislative session, like the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) and House Bill 219 (HB 219).

These measures, intended to protect individuals’ rights and promote transparency, have inadvertently become a heavy millstone around the necks of small businesses, stifling growth and suffocating our economy.

BIPA, while well-intentioned, has created a hostile environment for small businesses in Illinois. The law requires companies to obtain explicit consent from individuals before collecting their biometric data, such as fingerprints or facial scans. While protecting personal information is crucial, the practical implications of BIPA have been very bad.

Compliance with the law demands significant investment in specialized technology, staff training, and legal expertise, translating into substantial financial burdens for small enterprises struggling to survive in a competitive market.

The costs associated with BIPA compliance are just the tip of the iceberg.

Lawsuits alleging violations of the act have skyrocketed, flooding the courts and bankrupting businesses. Class-action lawsuits against even the most well-intentioned employers have become commonplace, leaving small business owners like me constantly on edge, fearful of inadvertently falling prey to expensive legal battles. The burden of defending ourselves against such lawsuits, irrespective of their merit, severely threatens the sustainability and growth of small businesses in Illinois.

In addition to BIPA, HB 219 has further compounded the plight of small businesses in Illinois.

This bill, which allows unlimited punitive damages in wrongful death lawsuits, may seem like a noble effort to protect workers. However, the reality is that it disproportionately burdens small businesses and hampers job creation.

As small employers, we understand the importance of protecting our workers. We know all of our people by name, and if you’re a good boss, get to know them personally. It goes without saying that we don’t want our people in harm’s way.

But the effects of the poorly written law are more frivolous litigation, inflated verdicts (to pay attorneys, not compensate victims), and ultimately increased costs of doing business. Maybe a large company can stomach more litigation and larger paychecks to trial attorneys, but for small businesses, HB 219 could be the death knell for small businesses struggling to stay afloat.

The cumulative effect of stacked costs, including BIPA and HB 219, paralyzes small businesses across Illinois. As office manager and co-owner of Circle Boring & Machine Co., I witness daily detrimental impacts on our operations and the larger community. Stacked costs erode our profit margins and hinder our ability to invest in essential areas such as research and development, employee training, and modernizing our equipment. By burdening small businesses with excessive regulations and financial strains, Illinois is inadvertently driving away innovation, stifling entrepreneurship, and stalling economic growth.

It is time for Illinois policymakers to recognize their actions’ unintended consequences and reassess the impact of stacked costs on small businesses. We need thoughtful and balanced legislation that promotes fairness, protects individual rights, and considers the real-world implications for small enterprises. Revisiting laws such as BIPA and HB 219, and exploring alternatives that strike a better balance between protecting citizens’ rights and fostering a thriving business environment, is crucial to the survival and success of small businesses across our state.

Illinois has a rich history of entrepreneurial achievement, but without meaningful reforms, its legacy risks being overshadowed by the demise of small businesses.

I implore policymakers and lawmakers to listen to the voices of small business owners like myself. We are the lifeblood of our communities, providing jobs, innovation, and economic vitality. As exemplified by BIPA and HB 219, stacked costs are smothering our entrepreneurial spirit and stifling our growth potential.

It is time for Illinois to prioritize the well-being and sustainability of small businesses, forging a path toward a prosperous future for all.

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