The number of older adults, who are making the decision to stay in their own homes, rather than moving to senior living facilities or in with their children, is increasing. While this allows them autonomy, it also places them at risk for abuse or neglect by caretakers or even family members’ care takers. The State of Illinois estimates that more than 75,000 people over the age of 60 are abused while only 10,000 victims are reported annually. Elder abuse can range from physical abuse to passive neglect and even denying an older adult medication or necessities as well as financial exploitation. Elderly victims of abuse may be too afraid to report abuse; often the only person they may have contact with outside of their abuser is a health care provider. Health care providers are mandated to report any signs of abuse but the recent expansion the Elder Abuse Records (HB 5266/PA 97‐864) law now includes police, fire departments and other first responders. The Act expands the people and agencies that can access records or reports of elder abuse and neglect. This access will allow increased protection for elderly citizens, allowing them to live safely and securely knowing that local law enforcement agencies are aware of possible past abuse and are better able to protect these senior citizens. In addition, HB 5653/PA 97-865 was also enacted to protect both elderly and disabled Illinois residents. The new law makes it easier to prosecute cases involving financial exploitation of an elderly person, or a person with a disability. The law allows prosecutors to freeze the assets of a defendant, which then can be used to provide restitution to the victim.
With the April 15th tax return deadline approaching, many people turn to tax preparers whether small one person shops or national corporations. Until recently it was up to the consumer to determine if the deal the tax preparer offered was fair and reasonable. Now the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection has stepped in to investigate tax preparers for violations ranging from no business license to failure to provide written disclosures for services. Paid tax preparers are legally required to give customers a written price list, an estimate of cost of the job and when the potential tax refund might be received. Tax preparers are also required to give their clients a copy of the city’s consumer bill of rights (in English or Spanish), which includes information on how to file a complaint about improper service. It is also illegal for a tax preparer to require that a client use their proprietary refund settlement process to pay for or receive services. If you feel you have been scammed by a tax preparer you should contact the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Services.
The Chicago City Council unanimously passed a wage theft law that activists hope will become the standard for protecting employees from dishonest employers across the United States. The new law states that companies who are convicted of wage theft of employees, either through unpaid overtime, withholding tips or providing an hourly pay that does not meet the minimum wage requirements, could have their business licenses revoked. Because the Federal Department of Labor has had cutbacks in staffing across the United States, unscrupulous companies have been able to take advantage of low wage earners without fear of punishment. A 2008 survey by the National Employment Law Center suggested that nearly two thirds of low wage earners had experienced at least one pay-related violation. The law equally protects companies who may accidentally miscalculate workers’ pay by including the phrase “willful or egregious violations” when specifying the loss of a business’s license. Several years earlier, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a State of Illinois anti-wage theft law which added jail time to the list of potential consequences for offenders. Now, in addition to that law, companies doing business in the City of Chicago risk losing their business licenses if they are found guilty of cheating their employees.
In 2013 Illinois joined 10 states in enacting Caylee’s law. This law was passed in reaction to the trial of Casey Anthony for the death of her daughter, Caylee Anthony. While Casey was found not guilty of killing her 2 year old daughter, Casey failed to report that Caylee was missing for 31 days. The law requires parents or guardians of a missing child 13 years old or younger to notify police within 24 hours. If a child is 2 years old or younger this must be reported within one hour. The same law also establishes parents or guardians to report the death of a child and it makes it a felony to threaten social workers or caseworkers. In proposing the legislation, Illinois Representative Jack Franks was quoted “Though it may seem untenable that any parent would fail to report their child’s death, unfortunately it appears that we need a criminal law that requires it.” Failure to report a missing child is a Class 4 felony and punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. It is hoped that the threat of punishment will keep parents or guardians from resisting the impulse to hide the fact that their child has gone missing and allow authorities to quickly locate missing children.
Illinois Safe Haven law provides options for mothers and their newborn child. According to the Safe Haven Law, a parent can anonymously take their newborn to a safe haven without fear of prosecution if the baby is thirty days old or younger. The law was created to help a parent who is under severe emotional distress or who might not able to provide the baby with its basic needs. Illinois fire departments, police stations and hospitals have been designated as Safe Havens and will take an infant as long as there is no sign of abuse or neglect. In August of last year, Governor Quinn expanded Safe Haven locations to include police departments of public or private universities as well as Illinois State Police district headquarters. The addition of these locations offer parents more options for leaving a baby at a safe location rather than abandoning them in a dumpster or in front of a home on a frigid winter night. According to the Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, over 1000 have been saved since the law was enacted in 2001; unfortunately the foundation also notes that 59 babies were not properly abandoned.
The City of Chicago Safe Families Ordinance prohibits police and other law enforcement officials from detaining undocumented immigrants unless they are wanted on a criminal warrant or have been convicted of a serious crime. The ordinance is important given the rising gun violence in Chicago. Law enforcement must have the trust and cooperation of all residents, including immigrants, if the city is to improve the safety of neighborhoods. Immigrants should feel they can contact the police without being afraid of being turned over to ICE officials. Among other things, the ordinance calls for the training of police when dealing with immigrants who are victims, witnesses or law-abiding residents who would not otherwise be questioned or detained in connection with their immigrant status. While Chicago police officers can honor the Secure Communities program mandate to detain immigrants and turn them over to ICE, they can base their decision on whether Chicago’s public safety interests align with federal immigration priorities. In cases in which people pose no threat, the updated ordinance allows police to base their decision on the most urgent public safety needs.
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