This Week in Springfield – 101-11

April 5, 2019

IN THIS ISSUE

FALSE CLAIMS
PROPERTY TAX
ANTI-THEFT WAGE THEFT AND STATE CONTRACTS
SESAME SEED LABELING COMPROMISE ADVANCES
DOOR-TO-DOOR CONSTRUCTION CONTRACT “COOLING OFF PERIOD” COMPROMISE
LATEX GLOVES BAN COMPROMISE PASSES COMMITTEE
ALLERGEN AWARENESS TRAINING REQUIREMENTS PASSES HOUSE

 

This Week in Springfield both chambers continued the march to  their own 3rd Reading Deadline next Friday, April 12th. As such, floor debate began in earnest.

FALSE CLAIMS

IRMA testified at a subject matter hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee in favor of SB 1564 (Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Lake Zurich) which seeks to reform Illinois’s False Claims Act. It would require third-parties to bring sales tax-related suspicions to the Illinois Department of Revenue (IDOR) who is the only authority with the power and knowledge to properly investigate. If the IDOR does not agree the suit should go forward, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office can override. This reform would interject accountability and end abuses by speculative third-parties but preserve the rights of true whistleblowers. One particular law attorney, Steve Diamond, who testified in opposition to the reform, has filed hundreds of lawsuits against retailers alleging violations of the False Claims Act over the application of sales tax on shipping and delivery charges. These were filed despite the fact retailers were following the laws of the State of Illinois and the rules and regulations of the IDOR. It was an insidious game to try and convince small-to-medium retailers to settle by threatening exposure on much larger amounts.

IRMA provided the history of the problem created by the misapplication of the False Claims Act. The Act was borrowed from the federal government which does not allow claims to be brought for suspected violations of the Internal Revenue Code. The federal False Claims Act exists to give whistleblowers a vehicle, and incentive, to root out government program and contracting abuses. When Illinois borrowed the statute, they over-looked the fact the federal government has no sales tax and failed to exempt it. As such, suits can be brought by third-parties under the Act related to sales tax despite the fact the IDOR is supposed to have sole authority over tax regulation.

The bottom line: no one should be sued for following the law. SB 1564 inserts accountability while ensuring true whistleblowers are still empowered and incented to come forward with suspected wrong-doing. SB 1564 did not advance as it was a subject-matter only hearing meaning the abuses can continue. IRMA would like to thank Senators McConchie and Chuck Weaver (R- Peoria) for working to shed light on this much needed reform.

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PROPERTY TAX

Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi is seeking passage of highly controversial legislation that would require non-owner occupied commercial and industrial property, including residential units with more than six units, to turn over their financial information to his office on an annual basis. Failure to do so would results in a significant financial penalty. The stated theory is this will increase the accuracy of assessments. While an improved assessment process is desirable, there is no guarantee this proposal will provide it and the burden on, and risks to, taxpayers could be significant. Further, the longer this proposal is scrutinized, the more problematic it becomes and the more opponents it gains. Recently, initial supporters including the Chicago Federation of Labor removed their support.

Some examples of the problems with the current proposal include its lack of clarity on what information must be reported (e.g. rent and building expenses, financial information of tenants, etc.), who must report (e.g. what constitutes owner/occupied), what properties are covered, protection of financial data, etc.  Another of the implied arguments is that passage would lead to more commercial development, particularly on the south side of Chicago/Cook County AND property tax relief for residential property owners. However, if there is relief for residential property owners, the tax load they previously carried has to be shifted to commercial and industrial meaning they will pay even more property tax which will lead to less commercial and industrial development.

SB 1379 (Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Chicago Heights) passed the Senate but only after the sponsor convinced the Senate it needed to move to keep the discussions going, that is a work in progress, and will have to come back to the Senate. IRMA is part of a broad and growing group of opposition.

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ANTI-THEFT WAGE THEFT AND STATE CONTRACTS

HB 1653 (Rep. Celina Villanueva, D-Summit) would prevent any employer who is convicted of wage theft from contracting with the state for five (5) years.  The intent of the legislation is to address the issue of temporary and seasonal employers who underpay their workers.  It is a rare instance for most mainstream retailers to be convicted of wage theft. Additionally, retailers are authorized to provide Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC) benefits to consumers in Illinois. If a mistake were to occur in a statewide workforce a retailer that has hundreds of locations throughout the state would be prohibited from providing Medicaid, SNAP, or WIC benefits for five (5) years. The legislation as introduced would prevent the ability of the state from reliably distributing state and federal benefits to consumers in Illinois. House Committee Amendment #1 addresses the aforementioned concern by exempting entities that have contracts with the state to provide Medicaid, SNAP, or WIC benefits to Illinois consumers from the requirements of the bill. As amended, the legislation passed the House with a vote of 69-43.  It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

With the adoption of the amendment IRMA is neutral to the legislation.  IRMA would like to thank Rep. Villanueva for bringing IRMA, AFSCME and LiUNA together to reach this agreement.

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SESAME SEED LABELING COMPROMISE ADVANCES

An initiative to address the growing issue of sesame seed allergens passed the House with a unanimous 114-0-0 vote. Food allergen labeling is governed by the federal government under the Food Allergen Labeling Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA). FALCPA requires the labels of domestically manufactured or imported pre-packaged goods to include the eight major food allergens: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and crustacean shellfish. Together these foods cause the majority of allergic reactions in the U.S.  Due to the rise of sesame seed allergen, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering adding sesame seed to the food allergen labeling requirements. The majority of the largest manufactures already include sesame seed labeling on prepackaged food.

HB 2123 (Rep. Jonathan Carroll, D-Northbrook), as introduced, required a state specific Illinois label to be placed on packaged food as well as ready-to-consume food. In the modern restaurant, there is no such thing as ‘standardized’ meal. Every offering can be customized to the customer’s desire and 75% of restaurant customers customize their orders. Using a coffee shop as an example, there are over 80,000 different ways to order a cup of coffee.  Due to the movement of the FDA and manufacturers changing their current labeling practices to include sesame seed Representative Carroll amended his bill to apply to prepackaged foods.

IRMA would like to thank Representative Carroll for working with us to reach an agreement on this important consumer safety issue.

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ALLERGEN AWARENESS TRAINING REQUIREMENTS PASSES HOUSE

HB 2060 (Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Springfield) repeals the stand alone requirement for allergen training and includes it in the current food handling training. Under current requirements, one person per shift has to take additional allergen training outside of the already required 8 hours of food training. HB 2060 includes the allergen training in the mandatory 8 hours of training that every food handler must complete.  The Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA) opposes this legislation because it has an agreement with the ServSafe and they get a percentage of the proceeds from the required additional allergen training. If the allergen training were to be included in the 8 hours of training, IRA would not receive additional funds for the additional training.

This common sense legislation passed the House by a vote of 96-1-7.

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Latex Gloves Ban Compromise Passes Committee

Many consumers suffer from latex allergies and there are concerns that latex could be transmitted from an employee’s gloves while handling consumer food. HB 2831 (Rep. Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg) would prohibit the use of latex gloves while preparing or serving food for consumption. The legislation still allows the use of latex gloves for other purposes in and around the retailer.

With the adoption of the agreed upon committee amendment, HB 2831 passed the House by a unanimous 112-0-0 vote and now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

IRMA would like to thank Representative Mussman for amending the bill and addressing retail concerns and supports the amended bill.

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DOOR-TO-DOOR CONSTRUCTION CONTRACT “COOLING OFF PERIOD”

COMPROMISE PASSES THE HOUSE

Every year thousands of Illinois residents are victim to home repair schemes. Oftentimes, “home repair contractors” will visit a town recently devastated by violent weather and go door-to-door and offer to repair the victims homes. Seniors, especially those who live alone, are prime targets for home repair scams. In some cases, con artists pose as inspectors, city officials or police and use scare tactics to force elders to have unnecessary repairs made to windows, furnaces, chimney, water heater or the electrical wiring, etc.

HB 2643 (Rep. Joyce Mason, D-Gurnee) gives individuals 65 years or older a 15 day cooling off period with a door-to-door home repair contract.  This provides protection for seniors who enter expensive home repair contracts unwittingly. This would not apply to a contract that was executed proactively by an individual who entered into a contract at the contractor’s physical place of business. The initiative passed the House with a 96-9 vote and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

IRMA would like to thank Representative Mason for working with IRMA to address this important constituent issue.