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City’s watered-down rules on debt collection win support

Updated: February 19, 2013 2:02PM



Mayor Rahm Emanuel agreed Wednesday to soften his plan to protect consumers against financial scams to satisfy businesses concerned about losing their licenses for mere technical violations.

Retailers, debt collectors and a handful of aldermen had accused the mayor of going too far in his quest to level the playing field for consumers.

They were concerned that Emanuel’s debt-collection ordinance — and companion legislation empowering the city bring the hammer down on businesses convicted of violating state and federal consumer protection acts — would strip businesses of their licenses for technical violations.

On Wednesday, the mayor scaled back the crackdown, and the changes persuaded the City Council’s Committee on License and Consumer Protection to approve the watered-down plan.

“We were concerned about not having any option to defend ourselves. [License revocation] was sort of an automatic thing. Now, the standards of conduct have changed. There has to be some intent and willful violation of the law. You have to be convicted,” said David Vite, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association. “The mayor’s office was very cooperative in working with us to eliminate our concerns. It’s good when opposing parties can get together and come up with something that attacks the problem while not penalizing legitimate businesses.”

Ald. John Arena (45th) said the softer language means that “an individual business with one strike against them” for a technical violation “won’t have to live in fear” of losing their city license.

“It was a nice compromise. It gave some comfort to the guy who makes an accounting error in his payroll and pays his dues for the violation,” he said.

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he remained lukewarm on the mayor’s plan, even though it has “improved dramatically” with the 11th-hour changes.

“I’ve always supported the intent of both ordinances. We shouldn’t tolerate unscrupulous debt collectors. And we should absolutely punish business trying to steal their employees wages,” he said.

“My main concern is the administration is proposing creation of a brand-new bureaucratic regulatory role for the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection — a role I think is already well-managed by the Illinois Attorney General’s office,” Reilly said. “The city should resist the temptation to create new regulatory roles already covered by other units of government who have the bandwidth and resources to protect consumers.”

After a marathon hearing on the mayor’s plan earlier this week, Rosemary Krimbel, commissioner of the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection, insisted that honest businesses have nothing to fear from her department.

“One of the things that one of the people who were [protesting] said was that, as soon as this passes, every business is gonna settle all of their claims with all of their employees. Well, hello. Isn’t that the idea?” Krimbel said.



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