SPRINGFIELD – As the General Assembly’s lame duck session entered its third day, lawmakers in both houses turned their attention to a sweeping bill aimed at reducing the economic disparities faced by black communities and Illinois brunettes.
It’s one of the four pillars that make up the agenda of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, which has so far been the focus of the Lame Duck session.
The economic equity bill, House Bill 5871, was introduced Thursday by Rep. Sonya Harper, D-Chicago, and like many other bills pushed by ILBC, it has garnered general praise for his intention, but reviews on a number of specific pieces.
The 334-page bill contains sections dealing with predatory lending, the use of criminal background checks in employment and housing decisions, diversity requirements in state contracts and purchases, and the removal of lead water pipes from public water systems, which advocates say disproportionately affects communities. colored.
It would also create a new Reparations Commission for citizens of African descent which, among other things, would be responsible for drafting future legislation requiring companies and other institutions to disclose any past connection to the slave trade and negotiate financial reparations.
“This pillar is part of the Black Caucus’ agenda to end systemic racism,” Harper said of the bill. “In this pillar we address several different areas such as banking and investment, economic mobility, small businesses and entrepreneurship, purchasing and business enterprise program, industry specific equity, housing, gentrification of land use and pay equity and workers’ rights. . “
Part of the bill, called the Employee Background Fairness Act, calls for strictly limiting the ability of employers to use a person’s criminal history to deny someone a job or take any other action unfavorable to them. unless there is a “direct relationship” between the conviction and the employment, or if there is a specific federal, state or local law prohibiting the employment of such a person.
It also contains similar language regarding housing in buildings under the jurisdiction of the public housing authorities.
“It’s just important to note that 55% of adults in Illinois have a criminal record, and an applicant with a criminal record is 50% less likely to be called back for a job offer or interview than an individual who doesn’t, “said Matt Smith. of Cabrini Green Legal Aid.
“So what we are seeing is that, on a routine basis, people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system, sometimes decades before, continue to face enormous and insurmountable challenges in securing stable employment in as they advance. “
But Jay Shattuck of the Illinois House said that while the business community generally supports the concept of this provision, they would prefer language that protects an employer’s right to provide a safe and aligned workplace. on the guidelines of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the same subject.
The bill also contains provisions to impose more restrictions on businesses that offer small loan amounts, such as payday loans and vehicle title loans. The provisions include a cap on the interest rate they can charge at 36%, the same cap that applies under federal regulations for loans to members of the military.
Steve Brubaker of the Illinois Small Loan Association, which represents businesses that offer short-term loans for small amounts, said that under current law payday lenders are allowed to charge a fee of $ 15. , $ 50 per $ 100 borrowed for a period of two weeks. Capping interest rates at 36%, he said, would result in just $ 1.38 per $ 100 borrowed, effectively forcing payday lenders out of business.
“We cannot operate at $ 1.38,” he said. “We can’t pay someone to do the $ 1.38 loan papers. “
Brubaker has also defended the industry, saying the loans they give are circulating in the community because people use them to pay for emergency expenses such as plumbing repairs or funerals.
But Brent Adams of the Woodstock Institute in Chicago, a group that advocates for fair housing and lending policies, argued that payday loans actually do the opposite because lenders take money back at an interest rate. annual rate of 297%.
“For decades, predatory consumer loans have robbed billions, mostly families of color, trapping them in debt cycles, preventing them from building wealth and forcing them to forgo other expenses like health care and prescription drugs, ”Adams said.
Lead water pipes
Another part of the bill would require all owners and operators of public water systems to take an inventory of lead pipes in the system and make a plan to replace them.
Lead, which is toxic to the human nervous system, was once the predominant material used for water pipes. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there are more than 677,000 lead service lines statewide, as well as nearly 380,000 copper lines containing solder. lead.
“Let me make it clear that there is no such thing as a safe level of lead exposure,” said Colleen Smith of the Illinois Environmental Council. “While not everyone has a primary service line, the existence of primary service lines impacts everyone in the state of Illinois. “
Josh Ellis of the Metropolitan Planning Council, a group that advocates for sustainable neighborhoods in Chicago, noted that 67 percent of Illinois’ black and Hispanic residents live in communities that have 95 percent of all lead pipes. Even outside of Chicago, he said, black and Hispanic residents are twice as likely as white residents to live in communities with lead pipes.
But Brad Cole, executive director of the Illinois Municipal League, argued that local governments that manage water utilities cannot afford to undertake such a project without financial assistance.
He said that the wording of this part of the bill had changed several times and that other revisions were circulating among lawmakers, some of whom would levy charges on all water users, whether or not they are connected to water. lead service lines, and others that would put municipal water services under rate regulation by the Illinois Board of Commerce.
“We have always maintained that any inventory or replacement of lead service lines required by law must include a continuous and continuous injection of revenue to cover the costs of municipal operations and the administrative costs associated with it,” said Cole.
Lawmakers heard testimony Sunday before the House and Senate executive committees, no action was taken in either chamber. The lame duck session will continue until Tuesday and possibly Wednesday before new and re-elected lawmakers are sworn in and a new legislative session begins.