Bill Would Allow Chicago to Boot Cars for Unpaid Utility Bills

By Tim Peacock

Chicago Denver Boot
Have you heard the one about receiving a parking ticking in Chicago? You're not really a true Chicagoan until you've received a parking violation for one of the thousands of inane regulations the city has on the books - many of which serve no modern purpose other than to raise revenue. Take the B-Truck plate, for instance. Its origins (reportedly) lie in the street width on side streets around the city - mainly, trucks with special "B-Truck" plate are forbidden from parking on certain streets and even driving on others. (You can read up more on that here.) Chicago is rife with ludicrous and profit-driven traffic and parking regulations not designed to maintain safety so much as earn the city money. At least (up until this year) lawmakers attempted to pretend they cared more about their constituents than tax dollars. That all went out the door late last month when Sen. Ira I. Silverstein (D-Chicago) introduced the Vehicle Immobilization bill (SB36). 

SB36 effectively punishes Chicago citizens for being unable to pay their utility bills by taking away the potential means of getting to their employers (to make the money they would need to pay their bills). It's a backward, illogical piece of legislation on the surface - until you look at the motivations behind the bill. According to Crain's Chicago, "Mr. Silverstein says he has not spoken with the city and introduced the bill at the request of a lobbyist friend whose clients include a law firm with a large collections practice. But that lobbyist used to work for the city's Springfield unit, Mr. Silverstein says. And the senator is not your typical legislator: He's the husband of Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th), a dependable vote for Mr. Emanuel on the City Council." In the end, it all comes down to money - even if it's at the expense of those who need more help (not more litigation) the most in Chicago.

This legislation comes at the heels of another hugely unpopular money grab by the city of Chicago that just took effect at the beginning of 2013. The "Non-Retailer Use Tax" (as it's officially called) levies a tax on "the non-retail sale or transfer of tangible property titled or registered, with an agency of the State of Illinois, at an address or location inside Cook County  That's right - it's a tax on any private transfer of vehicle ownership. It's the law that ended up costing me $175 in taxes  for a $400 1999 Saturn.

Sen. Ira I. Silverstein (D-Chicago)
Sen. Ira I. Silverstein (D-Chicago) 
Just as Chicago residents were (and still are) outraged over the new private vehicle tax, SB36 is yet another contributing factor to the growing dissatisfaction among Chicago residents with Rahm Emanuel,  the City of Chicago, and the quality of living in the city in general. The actual wording of the bill doesn't even attempt to mask the city's real money-grabbing agenda, either. According to Crain's Chicago:
A bill quietly introduced by state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, would allow the city to attach the Denver boot to the vehicle of anyone on the short end of a court judgment over money owed to the city. The debtor would have as few as 24 hours to pay up or the city would be allowed to sell or auction the vehicle, using the proceeds to pay off the debt. 
The measure, which is being proposed as the city ramps up enforcement of its newly expanded red-light camera network, would apply to all debts and judgments, from overdue water bills to unpaid permit fees, housing court fines and other IOUs. 
Under current law, the only vehicles that can be booted are those on which money is owed for traffic offenses, usually parking fines. Vehicles can be sold only if they're unclaimed for 21 days after being impounded. 
How many people do you know that owe upwards to $1000-$2000 in winter gas bills in Chicago could come up with the means to pay off their boot in 24 hours? I'd wager not many - and I'd also wager that the city knows (and is counting on) that.  This law targets low income, at-risk Chicago residents that typically either live paycheck to paycheck, or do not work at all for a variety of reasons (such as disability). 

A petition drive initiated by Anthony W. Williams is attempting to kill the bill. According to Williams' petition, "How dare a STATE senator introduce a bill that (right now) only affects the City of Chicago (MOST of his district is northern suburbs, Skokie, Wilmette, etc.) and targets the least of us, our seniors living off social security, those with low income, unemployed and underemployed?! No one purposely does not pay their utilities, that is the first thing people will pay when they have the money; no one wants to be in the dark, cold or without water." The petition is currently just a few hundred signatures away from the 5,000 signature goal as of the writing of this article.

In the meantime, as the petition drive and public outrage grows larger, the legislation is currently awaiting a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. 

UPDATE: As of 11:30 am on March 12, 2013, the petition's 5,000 signature goal has been met and surpassed. Williams has upped the goal post to 7,500 signatures due to the response the petition has received.


About Tim Peacock:
For virtually his entire life, Tim has been writing. Over the years he's dabbled in mainstream fiction, science fiction, dystopian fiction, and personal essays. The one consistent thread through his entire writing career has been blogging - he's been doing it since 1997 in one form or another. In creating Peacock Panache, he's combined two of his favorite hobbies: blogging and current events/politics. When not working here, Tim toils away at editing & rewriting the novels he's completed over the years. You can read samples of his other work here.

You can find Tim elsewhere online at his personal website. You can also find him on LinkedIn as well as on Twitter as @timsimms

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