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…]
Valentine’s Day is designed to show love and acceptance but it is not uncommon for school bullies to twist that intent to make their victims feel unworthy of such affection. Bullying Statistics.org estimates that in 2010 one in seven students at schools across the nation, including here in Illinois, were either bullied or acted as a bully. Over the last several years, bullying has taken more victims as bullies use texting, social media and other electronic methods to harass and humiliate others. Now Illinois hopes a new law will provide help to students who are victims of bullying. The new law, which went into effect last month, amends the state’s School Code. Previously, the law gave Illinois schools the power to investigate cyberbullying that occurred through a school-owned electronic device. Now, the law allows schools to expand their investigations to bullying claims that don’t involve school-owned computers as well as school-sponsored activities, functions or programs if the bullying causes a disruption to the school or the educational process. One example would be a student who is at home and creates a web page or blog under the identity of another student. That student then posts images or messages which cause psychological and emotional harm to the victim. Those posts or web page are shared with other students at the school and word spreads through texted and emailed links. At school, the victim is taunted by others over the existence of this online content and is unable to focus on schoolwork. The school is notified of the cyber-bullying and could use the new amendment to look at the bully’s electronic actions. If other students also shared the content with more than one person, the school could investigate them for bullying as well. Under the new law, schools must create a process on how they will determine whether the alleged bullying falls under their jurisdictions. Schools investigating a bullying incident are also required to provide helpful information to the alleged victims such as community bullying programs, support services and counseling. Recently, one school district sent parents into a panic after sending out a letter stating that students may have to give their social media passwords to their school. This was incorrect as Illinois made it illegal for schools to ask for students’ passwords to social media sites in a new law last year. Victims and their parents can provide proof of bullying[READ MORE…]
Starting this year, children in Illinois who struggle with severe medical conditions such as cancer, muscular dystrophy and epilepsy will now have access to medical marijuana. The change comes after parents lobbied lawmakers to expand the 2014 legislation which legalized marijuana as a medical treatment for adults. While the debate over medical marijuana has grown in recent years, research shows that as far back as the 1980s the drug was shown to be effective for people suffering with epilepsy. According to Medical News Today, Epilepsy is a condition that affects the electrical activity of the brain. Within the human brain electrical signals are constantly sent and received by cells. These signals control everything from breathing to memory to muscle control. Epilepsy causes these electrical signals to increase and this creates a communication error to occur between the cells. When this happens, the person experiences what is known as a seizure. It is estimated that epilepsy affects 2.5 million Americans and many of these are children. Epilepsy has many causes including birth injury, brain tumors, an infectious illness, strokes, prenatal brain malformation and chromosome disorders. It is also thought that a genetic condition can cause epilepsy to develop in families. Some forms of epilepsy can even raise a child’s mortality rate by 15 or 20 percent. While there are many drugs on the market, these can cause severe side effects for children which include the following: blistering, heart rhythm changes, sleeping problems, cognitive slowness, hyperactivity and even large skin areas that peel off. Additionally, many of the drugs are ineffective. Medical researchers discovered that the marijuana plant contains a chemical compound called Cannabidiol. This is the compound often used in medical marijuana products and has been proven as an effective treatment in epilepsy as well as cancer and other serious conditions. In epilepsy, medical marijuana has been proven to reduce the number of seizures that a child has and appears to have no negative side effects, including a psychoactive “high.” Recently, researchers at the University of Utah recommended that all children with severe epilepsy as well as other conditions have access to the drug. Under the new Illinois law, children can only receive medical marijuana in food or through liquid. Furthermore, parents or legal guardians must give their consent and two doctors’ recommendations are required. To receive the medical drug, photos of the children must be submitted and as well as[READ MORE…]
For many people in Illinois, the birth of a newborn baby is a momentous event. However, some mothers and fathers may feel unprepared for this next step in their lives. Teen mothers, for example, may have hidden their pregnancy from their family and panic when they give birth. Even older mothers may find themselves in a difficult situation economically and decide that they cannot afford to care for the child. As a result, many of these parents try to pretend the pregnancy never happened and often abandon their babies in dumpsters where their chance of survival is slim. Dawn Geras, founder of the charity, Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, learned that in Alabama, teen mothers were able to bring their newborns to local emergency rooms and legally abandon them. Concerned over the fate of unwanted infants in Illinois, Geras and a group of others wrote the first draft of a piece of legislation that was eventually passed as the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act, commonly referred to as the Safe Haven Law. That was 13 years ago. Under the law, parents may bring their infant to a hospital, a police station or even a firehouse within 30 days of the child’s birth. No questions will be asked of the infant and there are no legal actions taken against the parents. The infants are placed with couples and families, and eventually adopted. Lawmakers have made regular changes to the law over the years, requiring public schools to educate students in 6th through 9th grade about their options should they become pregnant, and setting up police stations on college campuses as a safe haven site. While originally legislators were nervous about a safe haven law, there is no doubt that it has saved lives. Recently, Illinois received its 100th baby as well as two more. Still, Geras feels that more can be done. While dozens of babies have been saved, dozens more have been illegally abandoned. Since the law’s passing, 72 babies have been left in closets or garbage cans and many have not survived. One baby found recently in a dumpster was found just in time. Geras and her volunteers know that the only way to prevent the illegal abandonment of these infants is to go out and speak to the public about the law. They stress to young teens that they do not have to give their name when they surrender[READ MORE…]
City governments in Illinois have the right to issue a citation and fine to property owners for a number of reasons. These reasons may include failure to care for one’s yard, installing the wrong type of fence, parking a vehicle in the street during a snow storm when the plows are out, a barking dog that is disturbing the neighbors, and property that has been left neglected and poses a safety risk to others. However, in some cases cities have overstepped their boundaries and issued unfair fines to residential property owners, who often had no choice but to pay them. Now, a new law passed by state lawmakers is giving property owners the ability to challenge City Hall. Public Act 98-1105, which has been signed by Gov. Pat Quinn, empowers residential property owners who feel they have been improperly fined by their city. Under the new law, property owners can file a challenge against a city fine in circuit court and request that the city pay their legal costs if the court rules in their favor. The court will conduct an administrative review of the city’s code compliance, examine the property owner’s situation and decide whether to reverse the city fine or approve it. If the court rules in favor of the residential property owner, the court may order the city to pay the owner’s attorney fees and court costs. Prior to the passing of the bill, property owners had to foot their own legal costs and oftentimes, the costs were greater than the actual fine. This left property owners in a difficult position with little options but to pay an unfair fine to the city. The bill was initiated by The Illinois Rental Property Owners Association as an amendment to the state’s Code of Civil Procedure. One supporter of the bill, the Rockford Apartment Association, believes that cities will be more careful about issuing fines to property owners and if fines are issued, they will be fair ones. The new legislation only applies to owners of single family or multifamily residential dwellings in a municipality with a population of less than 500,000. The legislation goes into effect on January 1, 2015.
Starting January 1, 2015, pregnant women in Illinois will have more protection in the workplace, thanks to a new bill passed by lawmakers this year. Gov. Pat Quinn recently signed House Bill 8 which amends the Illinois Human Rights Act, requiring state employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. The bill was a collaborative effort between Gov. Quinn, Representative Mary Flowers (D-Chicago) and Senator Toi Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) to address the widespread problem of discrimination against pregnant women by employers. Under the new law, employers must give pregnant women more frequent bathroom breaks, a private non-bathroom space for breastfeeding, places where they can sit and rest, help with manual labor tasks, limits on lifting heavy objects and time to recover after giving birth. The new amendment also gives pregnant women protection from termination; employers must reinstate an employee to her original or equivalent position after the pregnancy unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would be an undue hardship. Similar to American Disability Act accommodations, if an employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the ordinary operation of the employer’s business, the employer does not have to provide it. However, the hardship must be either prohibitively expensive or disruptive to the employer. The new law mandates that the employee and employer engage in a timely and meaningful dialogue in order to determine effective and reasonable accommodations. The employer may require medical certification from the employee’s health care provider but that certification only includes a medical justification for the requested accommodation, a description of the reasonable accommodation required, the date(s) of the accommodation and the duration of the accommodation. The amendment applies to every employer in Illinois – not just those with 15 or more employees. It also prohibits employers from requiring pregnant employees to use an accommodation they didn’t specifically request, such as an assignment to light duty. Gov. Quinn points out that women should not be placed in a position where they either have to choose their job or the health of their baby. The bill is aimed at protecting mothers who are single parents and in the low-income bracket but will apply to every pregnant employee. As an employer, you should review, with your attorney, your policies on reasonable accommodations and medical certification, as well as your employee handbook and training for managers and supervisors. You must post a notice regarding[READ MORE…]
In the past, lawyers for multiple small companies have accused search engine giant, Google Inc., of stealing and profiting from their clients’ trade secrets. In the case of VSL Communications, lawyers claim that Google did the same thing and left a paper trail of Post-it notes as evidence. London-based VSL Communications is accusing Google of stealing its proprietary method for shrinking video and audio files without any sacrifice in sound or image quality. The suit, filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court this past month, claims that Google used those trade secrets to enhance all of its streaming and downloading technology including YouTube, Google Play and Google Earth. The complaint alleges that Google coerced VSL into handing over trade secret information. A Google executive contacted VSL’s CEO to discuss the possibility of buying VSL’s video streaming and downloading technology. Google signed a nondisclosure agreement and VSL then provided the Google team with three CDs that contained working versions of its technology, 400 files and photocopies of additional VSL trade secrets as well as charts comparing the VSL technology with that of its competitors’. The complaint states that VSL did not know that”… behind the scenes, Google had devised a scheme to steal the VSL trade secrets and incorporate them into Google’s own products without compensating VSL for their use.” After discussions between the two companies came to a standstill over eight months later, VSL decided the deal was not going to go through and asked Google to return its intellectual property. Google returned the disks but the files and material were now covered with Post-it notes that contained information including the following: Google employees should delete any incriminating emails Google was concerned over the possibility of infringement regarding products in development Engineers at Google should “close eyes to existing IP” Google needed to speak with outside counsel about a non-infringement opinion Google should consider infringement lawsuit risk Concern over recklessness label on its infringement The complaint alleges that Google began to amend its preexisting patent applications and file new applications using VSL’s technology. In early 2012, VSL noticed that Google’s software showed significant improvement after VSL had provided access to its files and, upon examination, VSL staff found that VSL technology had been used in the company’s publicly available code. The complaint states that “Defendants’ theft of VSL’s trade secrets pervades virtually every website and[READ MORE…]
Over the last year, retailers have experienced data breaches that compromised consumer’s private credit card and debit card information. The list includes CVS, Home Depot, Neiman Marcus, Shaws, Sears, Supervalu Inc., Target and Walgreens. When Target Corporation announced earlier this year that as many as 110 million customers’ credit and customer records had been hacked during the 2013 holiday season, retailers took immediate action to upgrade and protect their systems. Within days of the announcement, states filed would-be class action lawsuits on behalf of consumers, alleging that Target was negligent in protecting card information. At the beginning of August the first consolidated class action was filed against the retail giant on behalf of thousands of financial institutions. The class action claims these institutions suffered losses of as much as $18 billion. The costs were incurred in reissuing cards, reimbursing customers and changing or canceling accounts. However, missing from the complaint were claims under the U.S. Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. An attorney, representing three financial institutions, has argued in favor of bringing RICO claims and sought the court’s permission to file individual lawsuits on behalf of his clients rather than join the class action. It is unknown whether he has been granted that request. In September, the class-actions from consumers and banks were consolidated into one and filed in Minnesota – Target’s home state. Target responded with a motion to dismiss the claims from financial institutions, arguing that they had failed to state a claim for their allegations relating to violation of the Minnesota Plastic Card Security Act, negligent misrepresentation by omission and negligence. Target argues that it has a relationship with the payment processors, not the banks themselves, and therefore, cannot be held responsible for damages to a third-party under state law. It may be more difficult for financial institutions to secure a verdict against Target, given outcomes in other cases. A data breach lawsuit against Michaels Stores Inc. was dismissed after the presiding judge ruled the plaintiffs couldn’t show that they suffered direct “economic damage” from a breach that compromised as many as 2.6 million customer credit and debit card numbers. Plaintiffs in data-breach actions against Barnes & Noble Inc., LinkedIn Corp., Sam’s Club and Aetna Inc. have also faced similar rulings. Though Target’s hack may have been the impetus for the uproar over consumer data protection, underlying the conversation, now taking place,[READ MORE…]
The State of Illinois continues in its efforts to protect nonsmokers, children and students from the dangers of smoking. In the past month, Governor Quinn has signed new laws regulating the way electronic cigarettes can be sold. The new law requires that all e-cigarettes must be sold from behind a counter, in a sealed case or in an age-restricted area. The law will also make it illegal to sell e-cigarettes from a self-service display. That law goes into effect on January 1st 2015. Another law that takes effect on the same day will prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone under age 18. Quinn also signed legislation, which takes effect on July 1, 2015, banning indoors and outdoors smoking on all Illinois public college and university campuses including all state-supported schools. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan and state Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago. Several Illinois college campuses, including the University of Illinois at its Champaign-Urbana and Chicago, already have smoke-free policies in place. Smoking would still be allowed inside of privately owned vehicles and during activities protected by the federal American Indian Religious Freedom Act. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, along with 28 other state attorneys general, recently submitted comments to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on its proposed e-cigarette rules. They urged the federal government to strengthen its proposed regulations for electronic cigarettes to include a ban on the sale of flavored products claiming that flavored e-cigarettes attract children and teenagers to the products. They also want the FDA to make e-cigarette advertising and marketing follow the same restrictions as tobacco products. Even Congress has become involved with 12 Senate Democrats proposing a law that would require child-proof bottles for the liquid nicotine used for e-cigarettes. The American Association of Poison Control Centers stated that toxic exposure to e-cigarette devices and liquid nicotine has risen from 271 in 2011 to more than 2,300 this year. Locally, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is being urged to extend his ban on smoking to include Chicago parks. While Chicago beaches and playgrounds are smoke-free, the parks do not have a similar ban. Chicago has earned a reputation for driving residents to quit, with the ban on e-cigarettes in any location that also bans smoking, disallowing sales to minors and banning all flavored tobacco product sales within 500 feet of schools. These and other measures such as one[READ MORE…]
The policy of assigning quotas for the number of traffic tickets each officer must issue officially ended in Illinois after Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation in June. This is good news for some drivers but ending the policy could have an effect on how Illinois police are evaluated as well as how much money some municipalities will earn from ticketing motorists. In many jurisdictions, ticket quotas were one of those traditions like doughnuts – always around but hidden in a drawer and not on the top of the desk where visitors might be able to see them. Quotas do have an upside for municipalities as traffic tickets generate income through fines. They also serve as an easy performance-measuring device for supervisors in police departments, since ticket numbers are verifiable. But the practice drew the fury of drivers who would often complain – unsuccessfully – that they were victims of an arbitrary rush on the part of police to meet a numerical goal. Some drivers argued that the number of tickets had risen at one point as a means of building public pressure to resolve tense labor negotiations between the police union and the city. Quinn was noted as saying that the law, which was overwhelmingly backed by both houses of the legislature, will allow police to exercise judgment when deciding whether to ticket a driver rather than simply pursuing a fixed number of citations during every shift. The law, which immediately went into effect, applies to local, county and state law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers should have discretion on when and where to issue traffic citations and not be forced to ticket motorists to satisfy a quota system the Governor said in a news release; “This new law will improve safety and working conditions for police officers and prevent motorists from facing unnecessary anxiety when they encounter a police vehicle.” The Illinois law applies to the range of citations that police issue, including parking, speeding and other functions. It also specifically bars municipalities from using the number of tickets issued by an officer in their performance reviews. In a statement in April, as the measure was still being discussed, John H. Kennedy, executive director of the Illinois Assn. of Chiefs of Police, issued a statement opposing the bill. While law enforcement executives strongly agree with eliminating the imposition of arbitrary traffic ticket quotas, the bill also eliminated vital data-driven[READ MORE…]
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