Budget Stalemate Clouds Otherwise Productive Legislative Session

The ongoing budget stalemate darkened the mood in the Capitol, and Woodstock, as a member of the Responsible Budget Coalition, hopes that the legislature and the Governor can finally agree on a budget that raises revenue and maintains critical state services. In the meantime, however, Woodstock and others have been working to pass various pro-consumer bills, and we are pleased to report some success this session.

Woodstock worked with Attorney General Lisa Madison and other consumer groups such as the Illinois Asset Building Group (IABG) and Citizen Action/Illinois to support the Student Loan Bill of Rights (SB1351) sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss and Representative Will Guzzardi. The bill, which was opposed by the industry, would make significant changes to student loan servicing in Illinois.  The bill would require student loan servicers to be licensed and overseen by the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation. It would also establish some requirements for servicers when they communicate with borrowers that would better enable borrowers to make informed decisions.  For example, servicers would be required, before offering other repayment options like forbearance, to inform borrowers that they may be eligible for repayment options tied to their income.  The bill would also create a Student Loan Ombudsman in the Office of the Attorney General to assist borrowers with their student loans. The bill passed both houses, but its fate on the Governor’s desk is uncertain.  We will work with our coalition partners to try and persuade the Governor to sign the bill.

Woodstock, along with groups such as IABG, AARP, and Illinois PIRG supported HB 302, legislation that would remedy a little-known insurance industry practice that denies countless consumers life insurance policy benefits. HB 302, sponsored by Sen. Jackie Collins and Rep. Rob Martwick, is a follow-up to the Unclaimed Life Insurance Benefits Act, bipartisan legislation that was passed unanimously by the House and Senate and signed into law by Governor Rauner in 2016. HB 302 would amend the act to require life insurance companies to compare lapsed policies against the Social Security Death Master File (DMF) to identify policyholders who have died and benefits that have not been claimed or paid. Insurers already compare some policies with the DMF. However, not all insurers compare lapsed policies - even though the policies may have lapsed due to the death of the policyholder.  This important piece of legislation protects consumers by requiring insurers to include lapsed or terminated policies in their DMF comparisons to determine if the policyholder has died, and if so, to determine whether benefits have been paid. The bill passed both houses, but there was industry opposition to the bill.  We do not know whether the Governor will sign it.

Housing Action/Illinois took the lead on a significant piece of housing legislation (SB 885), which was sponsored by Sen. Koehler and Rep. Gordon-Booth. In the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis, there has been a resurgence in “rent-to-own” housing opportunities (a.k.a. contracts for deed or real estate installment contracts) promising homeownership to people who generally are not in a financial position to buy a home though securing a mortgage. While rent-to-own can be an understandable choice for buyers under certain circumstances, rent-to-own contracts are only minimally regulated under Illinois law and are prone to contain misleading and/or unfair terms and conditions. Even worse, some sellers of rent-to-own homes have a business model based on predatory practices that churn a series of consumers through unsustainable agreements that quickly lead to default. SB 885 would establish various protections for consumers.  It would require that the contract include certain information such as any balloon payments and defined responsibilities for repairs, taxes and insurance. The bill would also prohibit prepayment penalties. After various amendments, the bill passed both houses unanimously. We are optimistic that the Governor will sign the bill.

Two bills that were high priorities for Woodstock did not make it past the finish line before the legislature adjourned on May 31.  The first, HB 3691, would establish the Children’s Savings Account program. Our partner, IABG, took the lead on this bill, and it was sponsored by Sen. Kimberly Lightford and Rep. Robyn Gabel.  Under the bill, all children born in Illinois would have a college savings account automatically established in their name with an initial deposit by the state of $50. After the initial deposit, low- and moderate-income families would be encouraged to save through savings incentives – a one-to-one dollar match up to $75 per year. Research shows that low- and moderate-income children with college savings of just $1 - $499 are three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate college.  The bill passed the House but was amended in the Senate before passing that chamber, which means the House needed to have a concurrence vote on the amended bill.  The House failed to take a concurrence vote by the end of session.  Now, if the House decides to call it for a vote, it will require a two-thirds majority, which it didn’t receive when it initially passed that chamber.

The same fate befell the paid sick leave bill (HB 2771).  Women Employed and the Shriver Center led the effort on this bill, known as the Healthy Workplace Act, which was sponsored by Sen. Toi Hutchinson and Rep. Christian Mitchell. The bill would have ensured that employees earn a minimum of 40 hours/5 paid sick days a year. Like HB 3691, the bill passed the House, was amended in the Senate, and returned to the House for concurrence.  But, the House adjourned without calling the bill for a concurrence vote.  The failure to act by the end of session effectively killed the bill because it would not be able to achieve a two-thirds majority.

These are only some of the significant outcomes this session.  Woodstock took an official position on several more bills.  If you are interested in learning more, please don’t hesitate to contact me.