SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today signed legislation that strengthens consumer protections for active military members. The new law imposes hefty financial penalties for companies that violate special protections that are granted to military personnel and their families.
“When men and women from Illinois are protecting our freedom abroad, we owe it to them to protect their interests here at home,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “But despite our efforts, some landlords, businesses and utilities still are not getting the message. Now, under this new law, companies that violate the special protections we’ve set up for military families will face stiff financial penalties.”
House Bill 4703, sponsored by Representative Linda Chapa LaVia (D-Aurora) and Senator Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), takes current state law one step further and imposes a $1,000 fine on any company that violates those safeguards.
Under the legislation originally signed by the Governor last August, active duty military personnel have the following consumer protections during and after deployment:
- Gas or electric companies can’t stop service for non-payment and must give military personnel the same amount of time to repay past-due bills as they were deployed.
- Life insurance policies that meet certain guidelines can’t be cancelled because of non-payment of premiums for two years after the end of military service.
- Retail sales contracts or other contracts for the purchase of goods or services can not charge interest over 6 percent per year.
- Cell phone companies can’t charge soldiers and their families certain fees for terminating a cell phone contract before its been completed.
- Car leases may be cancelled by a service member who has been deployed on active duty without early cancellation fees.
“Time and time again, I’ve heard about companies turning off the gas at a soldiers’ house and life insurance policies being cancelled at a time when its probably needed the most but there was nothing that could really be done about it until now. It was against the law but companies weren’t worried because there was no penalties involved,” Rep. Chapa LaVia explained.
"I'd like to thank Governor Blagojevich for making this a priority. Our service men and women shouldn't have to worry about whether or not their cell phone will be shut off when they are defending our nation abroad," said Sen. Harmon. "This bill will offer them some peace of mind."
All fines collected under the law will be deposited into the Illinois Military Family Relief Fund, which provides monetary grants to families of Illinois National Guard members and Illinois residents serving in the U.S. Armed Forces Reserve components who were called to active duty as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The new law takes effect immediately.
Gov. Blagojevich also signed House Bill 4822, which protects Illinois veterans from discrimination in employment and housing by changing the definition of military status in the state’s Human Rights Act. Under the new law, military status now includes a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States, a reserve component of the Armed Forces of the United States, the Illinois Army National Guard and the Illinois Air National Guard. HB 4822, sponsored by Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Highland) and Sen. William Haine (D-Alton), is effective immediately.
Since the beginning of his administration, Gov. Blagojevich has taken executive and legislative action to help the state’s one million veterans get the federal and state benefits they have bravely earned, and to extend protections to active duty military personnel.
Last month, the Governor won legislative approval for his landmark veterans’ health insurance initiative called Veterans Care. Veterans Care will provide thousands of Illinois veterans who earn too much to qualify Veterans Administration Healthcare but who do not have health insurance, access to affordable, comprehensive healthcare coverage. The new program will be operated by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services in collaboration with IDVA. The agencies estimate that approximately 9,000 veterans will qualify for this new program.
To be eligible for Veterans Care a veteran must meet the following criteria:
- Be between the ages of 19 and 64;
- Have been uninsured for the past six months;
- Be ineligible for VHA and other healthcare programs like FamilyCare;
- Have a household income up to 25% of the Federal Poverty Level above the VHA threshold at the beginning of the program, and if funds permit after 6 months of operation up to 50% of the federal poverty level above the VHA threshold;
- Not have been dishonorably discharged from service;
- Be willing to pay a monthly premium of $40, plus co-payments for doctor visits and prescriptions.
Additionally, the Governor signed legislation earlier this year to:
· Shield grieving military families from protests during funerals and memorial services of fallen soldiers. The “Let Them Rest in Peace Act” requires protesters to stay at least 200 feet away from family and friends as they mourn soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
· Punish individuals who falsely claim to be decorated war heroes. The new law creates criminal charges and imposes penalties on individuals falsely representing themselves as recipients of various military honors, including the Purple Heart, the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.
Last Saturday, IDVA hosted on behalf of Gov. Blagojevich the “Supermarket of Veterans Benefits” where hundreds of Central Illinois veterans were able to get information about their federal benefits and services, as well as connect with educational opportunities and job openings.
Earlier this month, the Governor announced that just three months after going on sale, the state’s first lottery ticket designed to benefit Illinois veterans and their families has generated more than $1 million for veterans. Veterans Cash is the first instant ticket in Illinois Lottery history where a portion of the proceeds will help fund state programs and services for veterans.
Last month, building on efforts to help the state’s veterans get federal benefits and services, the Governor announced that more than 5,500 additional veterans and their families were helped by the state since the hiring and deployment of 25 more Veterans Service Officers across the state at the start of 2006.