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Was January a brushfire or a sustainable course?

Tuesday, Apr 13, 2021

* I tried catching up on as much stuff as possible yesterday, but I still have a ways to go. Here’s my weekly syndicated newspaper column, which was published at the start of spring break

Since 2006, federal law has capped annual interest rates on payday loans to active duty military members at 36 percent. The interest rate cap was broadened in 2015 to include several more types of personal, unsecured loans.

In Illinois, meanwhile, payday loan borrowers have been subjected to average annual interest rates of close to 300 percent.

Illinois lawmakers tried to tackle this issue in 2005, and passed a rate cap that was widely heralded. But the industry took advantage of a gaping loophole and then kept right on with their business.

That legislation was painstakingly negotiated over many months. Under the old regime of House Speaker Michael Madigan, most every interest was given a seat at the table and then they were told to hammer out their best deals. Madigan often said he was a big fan of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s use of that same method to pass much of his own legislation.

I don’t know about FDR, but MJM also had mouths to feed. The political machine he built (which was copied by the other legislative leaders) provided a path for his most favored former state staffers into contract lobbying jobs, where they continued running his campaign apparatus as well as representing a huge number of interests under the Statehouse dome. Hiring one of Madigan’s former staffers didn’t necessarily guarantee any specific industry a win, mainly because those folks represented all sides of almost every coin. But it did mean they were listened to. And oftentimes bills couldn’t move until their concerns were addressed, sometimes leading to very complicated laws that appeared on the surface to be wins for liberal Democrats, but, as with the payday loan bill, turned out to be paper tigers.

As always, there were notable exceptions during the years, but this overall approach began to change after the 2018 gubernatorial election. A new liberal Democratic governor and empowered progressive legislators and interests were no longer content to settle for incremental surface wins and pushed for big things like a $15 minimum wage. Madigan for decades would only agree to small minimum wage increases, but he quickly realized he couldn’t stand in the way of that freight train.

Then, as the Legislative Black Caucus truly united for the first time during the tumult of 2020 and began working on a massive package of reform legislation, Madigan found himself under fire from all corners. Federal prosecutors were clearly coming after him, and a steadily increasing number of his own caucus members were growing weary of his leadership and wanted him gone. He needed some allies and he needed them fast.

Those two phenomena, combined with a new and untested (because of the pandemic’s cancelation of 2020’s legislative session) Senate president, a national mood shift and numerous other factors, produced an environment that the Black Caucus fully took advantage of to pass a remarkable number of wide-ranging bills on criminal justice, education and the economy during the brief January lame duck session.

The days of Madigan’s “everyone at the table” incrementalism were ended by straight-up progressive bills that were far from watered down. Madigan’s long and storied career also ended in January. His gambit didn’t work.

Last week, Gov. Pritzker signed into law the Black Caucus’ huge package of bills dealing with economic reform. Among them was SB1792, a bill that basically applied the military’s simple but seemingly effective interest rate cap on payday and other personal loans. The payday loan folks expressed outrage at how they’d been cut out of the process and predicted their industry’s imminent demise.

We’ll see if the industry’s dire predictions turn out to be true, but it’s as plain as day that massive change is happening, not just in the types of bills that have passed, but in how they’ve passed.

The question now is whether January’s session was a super-intense brushfire that will burn itself out and/or be extinguished by more moderate Democrats, or whether the path the General Assembly is on will be sustained.

Case in point, Rep. Curtis Tarver’s,D-Chicago, bill to eliminate qualified immunity for police officers advanced out of committee last week.

The Black Caucus’ criminal justice reform bill originally contained that qualified immunity provision, as well as limits on collective bargaining rights for police unions. But their bill was only able to gain enough votes when they agreed to strip out those items at the request of some moderate Democrats.

Tarver’s bill could put more heat on those same moderates and create tension within the party. So, this bill could be one to watch.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 6:13 am:

    If qualified immunity didn’t allow the criminal justice reform bill to pass with it, why would it pass by itself?

  2. - Sox Fan - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 6:24 am:

    =The payday loan folks expressed outrage at how they’d been cut out of the process and predicted their industry’s imminent demise.=


  3. - Flyin' Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 7:14 am:

    If you can’t stay in business with a 100%+ markup, you shouldn’t be in business.

  4. - @misterjayem - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 8:24 am:

    “If qualified immunity didn’t allow the criminal justice reform bill to pass with it, why would it pass by itself?”

    The public’s appetite for reforms to address police shootings is greater than it used to be.

    And it could grow more in future. Or not. But it might.

    – MrJM

  5. - EssentialStateEmployeeFromChatham - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 8:32 am:

    ==The payday loan folks expressed outrage at how they’d been cut out of the process and predicted their industry’s imminent demise.=


    I second that “Good” regarding the imminent demise of payday lending.

    I usually go on MacArthur Blvd in southwest Springfield on my commute to work. And it looked like within a few days of the payday loan reform bill’s signing, TitleMax closed their store on MacArthur in front of the State Board of Elections building in that shopping center (near HyVee). The outdoor sign is gone. Unfortunately, as par the course on MacArthur, I predict the building will sadly sit vacant for years.

  6. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 9:11 am:

    Just for the sake of argument, what perspective where the pay day lenders planning on bringing to the table? Is there some facet of the law that would be materially different? Or are the just upset that they didn’t get an opportunity to try to stall progress or otherwise reduce the impact of their business on their victims?

    ===Tarver’s bill could put more heat on those same moderates and create tension within the party. So, this bill could be one to watch.===

    This is going to bring tension on other players as well. Labor organizations in general are against the provision and every time they put effort into trying to kill these changes like cops murder with impunity they risk more of their members raising questions about how exactly their union benefits from enabling police officers to not real consequences for murdering people and other intentionally illegal activities, like destroying evidence or creating false charges, et al.

    Chicago could clean up it’s police department real quick if they started by firing every person who tampers with their dash cam microphone or if felonies like destroying evidence and lying in official reports were immediate do not pass go terminations.

    God forbid if Labor remembers who it was that showed up to beat, murder, and imprison them and that solidarity with the boot on your throat isn’t a message that people find easy to stomach. That perspective may not be appreciated by labor leaders that might be blinded by white fragility enough to fail to see that organized labor was also a part of the institution and that labor’s early history was defined by whites only unions.

  7. - Dotnonymous - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 10:25 am:

    America needs to employ better cops…for the sake of justice.

    Who decides who become police officers should be the focus of public attention…for a remedy.

  8. - Anon Litigator - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 11:10 am:

    So Rep. Tarver would like to bankrupt cities and villages? Unless the bill also includes modifications to the indemnification requirements of IL state statute it potentially leaves municipalities on the hook for millions and millions if those officers are found liable. That’s if it even has any effect because qualified immunity is a federal doctrine under federal cases. At best a useless law. At worst a law that bankrupts cities and villages, many of which are minority communities, when they have to indemnify these officers.

  9. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 12:12 pm:

    ===At worst a law that bankrupts cities and villages===

    Or, you know, the cities and villages could CLEAN UP THEIR ACTS.

  10. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 1:59 pm:

    ===it potentially leaves municipalities on the hook for millions and millions if those officers are found liable===

    Just speaking generally here if an entity, say, a for profit business, continued to knowingly let their employees break state and federal laws and continued to allow them to report to work after they have consistently failed to follow internal policies which impact the health and safety of others that entity should be on the hook.

    Municipalities aren’t victims. Their local leadership, elected and otherwise, permits these offenses to occur and does nothing to address the underlying behaviors when they do occur. One of the key problems I have with the the way local departments respond to outrage when video of one of their employees blatantly breaking the law becomes public is that it is typically many months between when they became aware of the incident and they wait to fire or discipline the officers involved until after there is public outcry.

  11. - Shirley Miller - Tuesday, Apr 13, 21 @ 2:20 pm:

    I’m in favor of qualified immunity but we have to face reality: the majority of people want to get rid of it.

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