Lawmakers in Springfield are pushing to make it harder to jail poor people who miss court dates or are found in contempt of court as they struggle with unpaid debts—an aggressive practice that got worse, some say, during the recession, according to an Associated Press report posted on BusinessWeek.com.
Debt collectors have become so aggressive in some parts of Illinois, according to the news report, that they commonly use taxpayer-financed courts, sheriff's deputies and county jails to squeeze poor people who fall behind on small payments of $25 or $50 a month.
HB 5434, the Debtors’ Rights Act of 2012, would require court appearance notices to be served to a debtor's home, rather than merely mailed. It would require arrest warrants to expire after a year, and it would return most bail money to the debtor, rather than allow it to be used to pay off the debt. Judges will retain the discretion to issue arrest warrants and to jail debtors for contempt.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan supports the bill.
“Creditors have been manipulating the court system to extract money from the unemployed, veterans, even seniors who rely solely on their benefits to get by each month,” Madigan said in a prepared statement. “Too many people have been thrown in jail simply because they’re too poor to pay their debts. We cannot allow these illegal abuses to continue.”
The recession heightened the problem, she said.
"More people are unemployed, more people are struggling financially and more creditors are trying to get their debt paid," Madigan said.
The bill has passed the House and was sent to the Senate’s Judiciary Committee April 18.
Attempt Underway to Tighter State Sex, Human Trafficking Law
Now that the Illinois General Assembly is back in session, The Chicago Reporter will be watching HB 5278 that aims to make it easier to charge and convict cases of sex and human trafficking. The bill passed the House and was read before the Senate once before being sent back to committee.
House Passes Tougher Pension Bill
The Illinois House of Representatives has approved a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would make it more difficult to enhance pension benefits for public employees.
If also approved by the Senate, voters could adopt the amendment during the November elections, according to The State Journal-Register. Madigan’s plan would require a three-fifths vote of the General Assembly to approve any bill that enhances pension benefits for workers covered by the five state-funded pension systems.
The supermajority requirement also would apply when local governments consider bonuses or other financial benefits that would enhance employees’ pension benefits.
“Some people will say this is real tough medicine. It is.” Madigan is reported as telling the committee. “The (pension) record would say we need this medicine.”
Illinois has the worst-funded state pension systems in the country. Together they have a debt of more than $83 billion in obligations owed by the systems, but not covered by their assets.