* But it’s long overdue…
Taxpayers bear the cost of hidden interest on Illinois’ enormous bill backlog with no real clarity about how deeply in debt the state is, how much interest is accruing on overdue bills and how long it will take to pay off the penalties.
Senator Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat, and Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza hope to change all of that with Senate Bill 1652, the Debt Transparency Act. The measure requires more accountability from state agencies regarding Illinois’ bill backlog, which today is more than $12.4 billion.
An estimated $4.9 billion worth of overdue bills is being held by agencies because of lack of appropriation or processing delays, and the comptroller’s office projects that Illinois will owe at least $700 million in interest and penalties on those overdue bills by the end of the current fiscal year.
“That’s $700 million of taxpayer money we are just throwing away – it’s not helping kids get day care or go to college. It’s not helping seniors get meals on wheels or keep their home health care,” Mendoza said. “Just think how many state employees could get timely health care if we had $700 million to pay our past-due medical bills. Think how many more Illinois students could get MAP grants to attend college with that money.”
But without accurate reporting on what the state owes, it’s impossible for the comptroller to precisely report interest charges. The Debt Transparency Act would require state agencies to report monthly to the comptroller the bills they are holding and estimate the amount of interest that will be paid on those bills.
The bill is here.
State lawmakers are attempting to revive an effort that failed last year to bring automatic voter registration to Illinois.
Democratic Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill plans to hold a news conference Wednesday on a proposal that would allow residents to automatically register to vote when they visit certain agencies. Lawmakers OK’d a similar measure last year but Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it over concerns it lacked necessary safeguards.
The latest iteration of the plan requires residents to confirm their eligibility before their information is passed along to election authorities. Its predecessor would have sent applications regardless.
* For decades, the threshold was $150. It was raised to $300 about six years ago…
Officials representing retailers, sheriffs and municipalities Tuesday said they are opposed to raising the threshold value of a stolen item from the current $300 to $2,000 for shoplifting to be considered a felony in Illinois.
The higher dollar amount for a felony charge was among recommendations in a report issued in December by the Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which was named by Gov. Bruce Rauner in early 2015. The goal of the commission was to recommend changes in state law that could reduce the prison population by 25 percent by 2025.
Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said at a Statehouse news conference that his group has backed legislation to avoid first-time nonviolent offenders from doing prison time. But he also said that the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention has found that retail thieves are caught “once out of 48 times they steal,” so they are “not someone typically just walking in and acting for the first time.”
He also said 80 percent or more of shoplifters detained in stores have money on them, showing that in those cases, they are “hardly stealing for need.” And he said the average retail thief in jail has several prior arrests.
* The Illinois Association of the Deaf’s crusade (background here) against the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission continues…
Illinois Senate committee members gave unanimous approval Tuesday to a bill designed to make the Illinois Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission more accountable, professional and active in improving the lives of deaf people. […]
“This legislation will allow us to better position IDHHC for success,” Jason Altmann, 37, legislative chairman of the Illinois Association of the Deaf, said after the vote. […]
The bill would require that people appointed by the governor to the Springfield-based commission’s board be confirmed by the Senate. The bill also explicitly requires the commission to “advocate” for the deaf and provide a range of services. […]
The legislation would require the commission’s director to have earned at least a bachelor’s degree — something [IDHHC Director John Miller] lacks — but that requirement would apply only to future directors.
* Press release…
Senator Daniel Biss’ groundbreaking measure to protect Illinois college students from crushing education debt advanced out of a Senate committee on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 1351 establishes the Student Loan Bill of Rights in Illinois to provide as much protection as possible for student borrowers, a population that frequently is targeted by bad actors in the student loan industry.
“At a time when a quarter of student loan borrowers are behind in their payments, we need to make sure borrowers understand their rights and have access to resources that will prevent them from defaulting on their loans,” Biss said. “I am pleased to work with Attorney General Lisa Madigan on behalf of student borrowers, and I encourage each of my colleagues to support this measure.”
The Student Loan Bill of Rights would help to ensure students and their families receive clear information about the money they borrow for higher education and how their student loans are serviced. Among the protections offered in the legislation:
· Requires student loan services to provide specialized employees to assist borrowers with questions about loan payments, explain repayment options and evaluate a borrower’s financial situation to determine which payment plan is appropriate.
· Requires loan servicers to give borrowers accurate information on billing statements and properly process borrowers’ payments, and bars servicers from charging unreasonable fees.
· Requires loan servicers to tell borrowers when and how their federal loans may be discharged due to a borrower’s disability or a problem with the school the borrower attended.
· Requires loan servicers to provide information so cosigners know the conditions of being released from their obligations.
· Requires servicers to follow procedures when a loan is transferred to a new servicer to ensure continuity and ensure borrowers’ payments are properly handled.
· Ensures borrowers have the right to request information and file account disputes with their servicer and appeal any servicer determination.
· Creates a student loan ombudsman in the office of the attorney general to assist borrowers with student loans.
· Establishes a student loan servicing license with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to qualify, oversee and discipline services for violating the Student Loan Bill of Rights.
* State rep seeks $25M anti-terrorism grant for Jewish groups: Illinois House Deputy Majority Leader Lou Lang introduced the legislation Monday. It would fund a grant program in the secretary of state’s office for “emergency” upgrades to prevent or respond to “acts of terrorism.”
* Kadner: Parents and older teens boozing it up together in Illinois?: Wheeler’s measure, House Bill 494, is stuck in committee and she admits it’s not likely to get out, at least not this session of the Illinois General Assembly.