In 2013, Detroit became the largest American city to file bankruptcy. This was one of the more highly publicized municipal bankruptcies to occur recently, but it was far from the only one. As The Chicago Tribune reports, 36 other municipalities have filed bankruptcy since 2010. Here in Illinois, many municipalities face similar financial strain but lack authorization to file bankruptcy. However, a new bill could make Chapter 9 bankruptcy available to these communities. Chapter 9 bankruptcy allows municipalities to restructure debt after all other financial options have been exhausted. Municipalities cannot discharge existing obligations through bankruptcy, but some liabilities may be reduced. During Chapter 9 reorganization, creditors are prohibited from seizing control of the municipality or selling municipal assets to pay down debt. Reorganization can only proceed with the approval of a bankruptcy judge. However, these judges cannot explicitly dictate the terms of the reorganization. Supporters of the new bill believe bankruptcy may be the most reasonable option for municipalities struggling to keep up with pensions and general debt. Many of these municipalities face increased expenses, dampened revenue and reduced funding from state income taxes. In some Illinois cities, including Springfield and Peoria, authorities have been forced to increase taxes and fees to cover pension costs and other necessary expenses. Lawmakers worry that taxpayers in these municipalities are receiving fewer needed services even as overall debt grows. Breaking the debt cycle can be difficult for many municipalities. As an example, outstanding pension and bond debts in Chicago now exceed $33 billion. Due to these growing liabilities, two agencies have recently downgraded the rating on the city’s debt. The reduced rating will result in greater interest rates on current debt as well as future liabilities. This may accelerate the accumulation of overall debt by diverting more payments from principal loan balances to loan interest. Although municipal debt represents a growing issue, many lawmakers maintain that letting municipalities file bankruptcy will only give rise to more problems. The new bill has drawn criticism because it could lead to significant reductions of police and firefighter pensions. Opponents of the bill also worry that filing bankruptcy may prevent a municipality from accessing needed credit in the future. Some lawmakers have suggested alternatives to allowing municipalities to file bankruptcy. One potential solution is the creation of an overseeing authority that could work with municipalities to manage debt through other measures. For cities certified as financially[READ MORE…]
At some point most drivers in Chicago have received tickets for parking violations, speeding or red light running. Every year, the city issues about 2.5 million parking tickets and thousands more speed or red light camera tickets, according to local news source DNAinfo. These tickets generate significant amounts of revenue, but collecting this money has proven difficult. According to a recent report, traffic ticket debt in Chicago has reached $1.5 billion, and an additional $1 million of debt accrues each week. Chicago motorists currently owe about $1.3 billion in parking tickets, which represent the leading contributor to the overall debt. Red light camera and speed camera tickets respectively account for another $205 million and $27 million of debt. To address this growing problem, Chicago has implemented a payment plan program for people who might struggle to pay tickets due to financial issues. This measure has had limited success, however. The number of people who follow their payment plans is significantly lower than the number of people who default. The city’s high level of debt may partly reflect the absence of a statute of limitations for traffic citations. About 70 percent of Chicago’s current debt accumulated prior to 2011, and some unpaid tickets were reportedly issued as long as 20 years ago. Chicago has collected some of this debt by intercepting tax refunds from people with outstanding tickets. However, the repayment of the old debt may be unlikely, since many ticket recipients may have relocated or passed away. Data from other cities suggests that stronger sanctions or enforcement methods could reduce traffic ticket debt. Chicago has more traffic ticket debt than New York City and Los Angeles combined, even though both cities issue more tickets on a yearly basis. This discrepancy may be due to differences in the ways the cities address unpaid debt. In Los Angeles, drivers must pay all debt before they can register their vehicles each year. In New York City, authorities can boot a driver’s vehicle once a ticket has been outstanding for 100 days. The implementation of either measure could help lower total outstanding debt in Chicago. Changes to current automated enforcement programs might also ease traffic ticket debt. Drivers have contended that Chicago’s speed and red light camera programs violate their rights to due process and issue tickets when violations have not even occurred. Consequently, many motorists have contested camera tickets, refused to pay fines[READ MORE…]
Campus rape has become a national concern in recent years, as high-profile cases at various schools have highlighted the extent of this problem. One study suggests that as many as one in five women fall victim to sexual assault or attempted sexual assault at some point during college. Unfortunately, these victims often face significant challenges in pursuing justice or even proving rape occurred. Frequently, campus rape cases come down to “he said, she said” evidence. In many of these cases, there are no witnesses aside from the people who were directly involved. When these individuals were acquaintances or friends before the sexual assault, victims may have trouble proving they did not consent to sexual activity. This may especially be true when a victim and attacker have had past sexual relations or when a victim withdraws consent during sexual activity. A recent case at the University of Illinois Chicago illustrates this issue. A woman alleges that she was raped after consensual activity with a “friend with benefits” crossed the line. According to the man, the two were acting out a scene from “50 Shades of Grey.” At one point, the man ordered the woman to resist him more and struck her forcefully with a belt. The woman states that she became uncomfortable and started legitimately resisting and telling the man to stop. The man maintains that they were role-playing the entire time. During a preliminary hearing, a judge determined the case lacked probable cause and dropped the charges against the man. Unfortunately, victims of campus rape may also face other barriers to proving rape occurred. For many victims, the way the brain responds to trauma can be a handicap. Rape victims may have trouble giving linear accounts or remembering the incident at all, and this problem may be exacerbated in attacks involving intoxication. This memory failure occurs because the brain encodes emotions and sensations, rather than narratives, during traumatic events. Withdrawal is also a common response to trauma. Consequently, when describing a rape later, victims often display a flat affect. These responses may undermine a victim’s apparent credibility. The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women estimates just 2 to 8 percent of rape charges are false. However, the accounts of campus rape victims are frequently met with skepticism. Authorities may view shaky memories or a flat demeanor as signs that allegations of rape are fabricated. When victims report[READ MORE…]
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