Big wins made for Illinois and its small businesses

Small business advocates championed three pieces of legislation that passed the Illinois General Assembly this spring. Each of these bills were significant and laser-focused on supporting small businesses.

Robust engagement with policymakers, a strong grass-roots operation and tremendous collaboration with legislative leaders were key factors to achieving success. Forming and solidifying coalitions were also crucial components to passing these bills.

The small business community scored an important victory when politicians passed legislation that should make health insurance more affordable for small businesses. Beginning in 2026, the Illinois Department of Insurance will have the authority to deny or modify excessive health insurance premiums that impact small businesses.

Illinois joins more than 40 states that have already passed some form of prior approval for health insurance rates. It has taken years to pass this bill and it promises to have a significant impact on the small business community.

This law also enhances transparency so policymakers and the public can better understand what drives the costs of health insurance. The legislation calls for an annual report that examines and analyzes health insurance coverage, affordability and cost trends in our state. The report will shine a light on the cost drivers that make health insurance so expensive, while also providing guidance on proactive measures that can be taken to address the issue.

The bill also ensures that proposed health insurance rates will be posted on the Department of Insurance's website and provides a comment period so small business owners can have their voices heard.

Collaboration, negotiation and strong legislators pushed this bill past the finish line. Small business and consumer advocates joined forces to form a powerful coalition working together. Policymakers brought stakeholders together and fostered meaningful negotiations so an accord could be reached. Legislators continued to push past setbacks to see the passage of this bill come to fruition.

The process worked in this instance, and as a result, there is the prospect of lower health insurance premiums for small businesses.

Two other improvements

Two additional pieces of legislation were passed that will enhance transparency for small, minority- and women-owned businesses seeking government contracts.

Equally important, the SBAC continued to build relationships with legislators and government officials interested in moving policies forward that focus on providing a level playing field for small businesses competing for government contracts. There is alignment between policymakers and small business advocates who want to see small businesses obtain a fair share of government work. We look forward to working with all stakeholders on initiatives and policies that will make this happen.

We celebrate these successes but also understand there is unfinished business to address during the brief, fall legislative session.

The SBAC has championed legislation that will provide wage subsidies, and an increased tax credit, for small businesses that hire formerly incarcerated individuals. This legislation passed the Illinois House but, despite strong support, stalled in the Senate. Passing this bill will support small businesses struggling to hire employees, foster opportunities for returning citizens, proactively improve public safety and reduce the costs of reincarceration.

Our goal will be to pass this legislation in the fall or secure the inclusion of the program into a supplemental budget.

A strong and united small business community can move public policies that have an immense impact on small businesses and the Illinois economy. We look forward to continuing to build momentum this summer, in the fall and into 2024.

• Elliot Richardson is co-founder and president of the Small Business Advocacy Council.

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