October 2016Volume 22Number 2PDF icon PDF version (for best printing)

Oh, the laws I’d offer if I were an Illinois state legislator. Part I: The civil fix

I often wonder what if... What if I had pursued my dream of becoming a singer and actress? What if... What if I went back home to Louisiana instead of staying in St. Louis? What if... What if I worked for a large firm? What if... What if I was an Illinois legislator? So, let’s talk about that for a moment. If I were an Illinois legislator, here’s what I’d offer in a legislative session:

Children & Families

Illinois children and families deserve the care and respect of the governmental system with which they interface. While daily interaction cannot be legislated, some policies make sense to aid in the well-being of Illinois families and children.

Foster Child Bill of Rights

In a progressive move, Illinois adopted a Foster Parent Bill of Rights and enshrined it in 20 ILCS 520/1-15. It’s time, now, to adopt a Foster Child Bill of Rights. It should include the right to have a bank account in the child’s own name at a financial institution. The website for the National Conference on State Legislators has a wonderful comparative compendium, by state, of the various different policies. It would be a good place to gain a national perspective of state laws on the matter, find clear language for drafting, and get some great new ideas.

Parity on leave policies between state and private employers

As it relates to time away from the job, whether FMLA or other, Illinois is half in and half out. And, depending on your point of view, Illinois’ generous state leave policy incentivizes state employment or serves as a reason the state’s spending is disproportionate. What seems to be true is that at least some state employees have leave longer than FMLA, have the opportunity for unpaid leave, and have expanded access to leave for workers with less time on the job. No matter the size or the revenue, private employers don’t have that. One thing’s for sure—if I did work in a large firm, I’d certainly want that. FMLA and other leave policies are seen as leveling the playing field for women since it allows women to return to a job after pregnancy or caregiving at the same level of employment. From this perspective, having parity between public and private employers makes good sense. From an economic standpoint, having a threshold number of employees or even a base amount necessary to trigger these provisions seems a prudent addition to such a policy.

Prohibit Child Identity Theft

Of all the bad things to do to a child, stealing their identity is quite high on my list. It’s like stealing their future; they’re explaining themselves before they even get a chance to move forward as adults. And, for children born with significant risk factors and low protective factors, child identity theft can further exacerbate an already challenging situation. Maryland has an interesting approach to deal with child identification theft. Written with the help of the reporting agencies, Maryland’s law requires the credit bureaus to create and then freeze a child’s credit report. In that way, they get around the practical conundrum of trying to freeze the credit account of a person with no credit account. I would amend 720 ILCS 5/16-30 to include children under eighteen (18) as a member of the class whose identity theft is labeled aggravated. I would certainly consider amending 720 ILCS5/16-32 to affect relatives and caregivers (think foster child) who use or allow others to use a child’s information to receive utilities.

Civil Reform

Even though Illinois is somewhat progressive when it comes to civil law, areas for improvement still exist. Some of them are quick fixes; others require deliberation and precision. Still, all are prime for legislation. They include the following:

Amend 720 ILCS 5/26 (b)(1), the surveillance statute to:

1. Specifically allow by-standers to record police. THIS is a NO-BRAINER. I will agree with anyone who posits that by-standers should not interfere with the on-going work of the police. I would further agree that by-standers should keep a certain distance. However, no confusion should exist about a citizen’s right to record services rendered in their name, and a law on the books would make it very clear. Moreover, any record made by by-standers cannot be seized by police; if police want access they can go through the usual channels to get it. Those changes go a long way in re-calibrating the scales of justice so that it better balances the interests it weighs.

2. Craft a better law regarding the interception of data from surveillance. This is a very small tweak that needs to occur so that the spirit and letter of the law are more precisely enabled. Currently, it is not against the law to intercept data from surveillance, whether the initial surveillance was lawfully obtained or not. Likewise, there seems to be no prohibition in the rules of evidence prohibiting a party from using such information. This affects everything from down-blousing and up-skirting to lawful police surveillance. Without a fix, the enterprising person could intercept the data from lawful police surveillance and rebroadcast it without violation of the law. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem right; and neither are the other scenarios an enterprising mind could envision.

Amend 725 ILCS 150/ civil forfeiture statute

This is a national situation with state and local implications. The timing is perfect and the public is ready to give clarity to Illinois civil forfeiture laws. First, the ACLU has done a tremendous job researching the issue and I would adopt most—if not all—of the provisions they offer. But, lawmaker that I am, I would raise them one. The money from any civil forfeiture would, in my bill, be split in three ways between the governmental entity (county, city, muni) that took the collateral, the public defender system, and legal aid. This would give all three under-funded agencies a sorely needed revenue source. This is especially necessary for the public defender and legal aid systems, since money obtained from the sale of unclaimed property goes to the state pension system which, seemingly, will always need to be capitalized. I have to confess, though... The small perk for me, if I get some version of this bill passed, is that I’ll gain new “friends” in my re-election bid, something I’ll need to keep this dream alive!

Ban hunting and fishing with drones

This is just good business. Anyone should understand that unnatural advantages should not occur in hunting, fishing, and sports. Just in case there are people who don’t believe/understand/are waiting for the law to change, I would author this one and get ahead of the curve.

Pay prisoners who work for private industry a minimum wage

Catchy one, isn’t it? And, it has the benefit of having your mind race all over the place! The drab meaning is simple: Private firms should not substantially profit from mass incarceration. If an inmate makes clothing, furniture, or other things for an industry that gains a profit— whether the corporation is for profit or not-for profit—the inmate should be paid a minimum wage. This is distinguishable from inmates whose job entails prison upkeep or where the labor benefits the prison directly (agriculture, electrician). The corporation already gets a break— Human Resources, discrimination disputes, worker’s compensation, overhead, and facilities readily come to mind. Inmates need the money to transition from incarceration and have the ability to immediately sustain themselves without increasing the risk of recidivism.

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Well, there you have it! If... If I were an Illinois legislator, these are the civil laws I’d offer. Yes, I’d have to trade, I’d have to work, and I’d have to plan. But, I think I could parlay most of these into respectable bills with a decent shot of passing—even in THIS legislative environment! But you... What are your amendments? Your counter proposals? What will you champion? How can we work together?

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