Holmes, Attorney General move to reform employment agency law

Published: Thursday, March 26, 2015 01:00 AM

holmes-empl-agenciesSPRINGFIELD — Working alongside Attorney General Lisa Madigan to crack down on unlicensed employment agencies, State Sen. Linda Holmes advanced a plan out of committee Wednesday.

“Employers who are flouting the law are exploiting some of the most vulnerable workers in some the lowest-paid jobs,” Holmes said. “At the urging of Attorney General Madigan, I’m putting this proposal forward to toughen enforcement and make sure jobseekers are protected.”

Agencies that refer jobseekers to employers for a one-time fee are regulated under an act that has not seen substantive updates in decades. Those regulations also provide inadequate tools for the Attorney General’s Office to enforce compliance.

Workers who have been placed by such unregulated agencies have alleged instances of abuse they have suffered at the hands of employers, including being made to work 6-day work weeks of 12-hour shifts to pay off referral fees, being referred to jobs that pay below the minimum wage, being housed in crowded and substandard conditions and being denied medical treatment for on-the-job injuries.

“My office initiated this legislation after uncovering instances of low-income and immigrant workers being subject to dangerous and often illegal working conditions. They were placed in those conditions by employment agencies that were frequently operating without licenses,” Madigan said. “This bill will strengthen our laws so that we can stop licensed and unlicensed employment agencies from taking unfair advantage of Illinois workers.”

In addition to providing civil penalties for such violations, Holmes’ proposal directs the Department of Labor to create and maintain a database of employment agencies with suspended or revoked licenses, requires employment agencies to keep records of their placements longer and provides whistleblower protection to employees who report misconduct.

Hutchinson makes the case for paid sick time

Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 03:16 PM

hutchinson-sickpaySPRINGFIELD – Illinois would become the fourth state to require paid sick time for employees under a proposal heard today in the Senate Executive Committee.

“Far too many Illinoisans are living paycheck to paycheck, unable to miss even one day of work,” sponsor State Senator Toi Hutchinson (D – Chicago Heights) said. “One illness, one accident or one emergency situation could mean choosing between their well-being or putting food on the table.”

The proposal requires Illinois employers to offer up to seven paid sick days per year, accruing an hour at a time for every 30 hours worked. The proposal is similar to a plan unveiled by President Obama earlier this year in an effort to give more flexibility to working families.

While the plan would help the more than 40 percent of Illinois workers who don’t qualify for paid sick time, employers would also benefit from the proposal. Numerous studies have shown the benefit employers receive when paid sick time is offered, as workers recover from illnesses faster and are more productive once they return to work.

“We are the only industrialized country that hasn’t extended this basic human right to our workforce,” Hutchinson said. “It is time we move forward and update our laws to match our modern economy.”   

Under the plan, paid sick time could not be used within the first 120 days of a worker’s employment and would not have to be paid out to employees when they leave work.   

Senate Bill 1836 was heard today in the Senate Executive Committee.

Bennett advances measure to ensure financial independence

Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 03:05 PM

bennett-savingsSPRINGFIELD- Illinois families worried about the financial security of loved ones suffering from disabilities could soon have another resource to promote their independence.  

State Senator Scott Bennett (D-Champaign) advanced Senate Bill 1383, which creates a tax exempt plan to assist individuals and families in saving money to cover the expenses for people with disabilities.

“We all want our loved ones to be able to live their lives with respect and dignity. This legislation allows families to provide a stable future by paying for basic expenses,” said Bennett. “Without resources like this, many people with disabilities are unable to have the opportunity to be financially independent.”

The initiative creates the Illinois Achieving Better Life Expectancy Act (ABLE Act), which creates accounts similar to tax-advantaged college saving plans where income earned in the account is not taxable. This legislation comes after the Federal Government passed the Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014 with bipartisan support. States are required to pass enacting legislation to establish ABLE accounts.

The Treasurer’s office would be responsible to create ABLE accounts in accordance with federal rules and regulations.

“We want to provide financial resources to help ensure families can afford to take care of their loved ones,” said Illinois Treasurer Michael Frerichs. “By creating ABLE accounts, we can offer a tax-advantage to help establish the financial security necessary for those family members who need it the most.”

The accounts can be used to pay for qualifying expenses such as education, health, housing and transportation costs.

SB 1383 passed the Senate’s committee on State Government and Veterans Affairs and now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

Silverstein’s powdered alcohol ban approved by Public Health Committee

Published: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 01:24 PM

silverstein-alcpowder-passesSPRINGFIELD–The Senate Public Health committee approved a proposal today to ban powdered alcohol in Illinois and to set penalties for its sale. Powdered alcohol is a relatively new product already proving to be dangerous, particularly for minors.

State Senator Ira Silverstein (D–Chicago) is the sponsor of the proposed ban, Senate Bill 67.

“Alcohol powder has the potential to cause a surge in the number of cases of alcohol poisoning,” Silverstein said. “Access to powdered alcohol by minors susceptible to binge drinking and people inclined to attempt date rape creates new risks to the public.”

Any crystal substance of powder containing alcohol is considered “powdered alcohol.” The powder may be dissolved in liquid such as soda or juice or sprinkled on food. It can be eaten or snorted without mixing.

A violation of this law would be a Class A misdemeanor for a first offense and a Class 4 felony for a second or subsequent offense.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 42 bills have been introduced in 26 states this year to ban powdered alcohol. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York) introduced a federal ban, calling it potentially “the Kool-Aid of teenage binge drinking.”

Senate Bill 67 now awaits debate on the Senate floor.

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