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Cheers to Illinois lawmakers and Gov. J.B. Pritzker for lifting the time limit for prosecutors to bring major sex crime charges, regardless of the age of the victim.

The new law will extend the same access to justice that lawmakers afforded sex crime victims under the age of 18  after federal investigators discovered in 2017 that former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert had sexually abused young boys while he was a wrestling coach at a Yorkville High School.

The longest-serving speaker in U.S. history was described by a judge as a “serial child molester,” but served just 13 months in prison on bank fraud charges for paying hush money to one of his victims. Why wasn’t he tried for the far more serious offenses? By the time they came to light, the statute of limitations had run out to charge him.

Courageous victims spoke out and lawmakers in Illinois and elsewhere changed state laws.

As of Jan. 1, 2020, Illinois will go a welcome step further and extend the same access to justice to adult victims. They will do so by no longer requiring that prosecutors have just 10 years to bring major sex crime charges in attacks involving adults, and that those crimes must be reported within three years after the attacks occurred.

Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, proposed the bill Pritzker signed this week because a constituent feared his daughter’s attacker would escape punishment while an investigation was ongoing.

But also playing a major part is the #MeToo movement, which shone a brighter light on the uphill and emotional battle sex crime victims face in levying charges against their attackers.

Critics worry the new law will violate the rights of the accused because they will face a difficult task in defending themselves against old charges. They also warn that prosecutors will be pressured to bring charges even when they do not believe the evidence supports a conviction.

It's important to note, however, that the new law does not enjoin judges or prosecutors from applying the standards of evidence that are currently required of them, or from laws designed to protect every defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial.

Such laws are not, however, designed to create a game of beat-the-clock that results in the guilty winning a get-out-of-jail-free card. Starting Jan. 1, in major sex crime cases, they won't.

Jeers to the suburban Chicago parents accused of exploiting a loophole in the Illinois student-aid system.

The scheme came to light after a ProPublica Illinois investigation found at least 40 cases in which affluent, entitled families attempted to game the need-based college aid and scholarship program.

“Parents are giving up legal guardianship of their children during their junior or senior year in high school to someone else — a friend, aunt, cousin or grandparent," ProPublica Illinois said. "The guardianship status then allows the students to declare themselves financially independent of their families so they can qualify for federal, state and university aid."

Who are the parents seeking to rob from the poor to give to the rich from the Illinois Monetary Assistance Program (MAP)? Among them, the report said, are a doctor, a school administrator, insurance and real estate agents, and lawyers.

Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Illinois ProPublica he got wind of the scam when a suburban high school counselor asked why an affluent student had been invited to an orientation program for low-income students. That guardianship arrangement was not the last one UIUC uncovered.

“Wealthy families are manipulating the financial aid process to be eligible for financial aid they would not be otherwise eligible for," Borst said. "They are taking away opportunities from families that really need it.” 

ProPublica Illinois says it is expanding an investigation that we suspect only scratches the surface of the scam.

Kudos to all those working to uncover it, and thanks to Illinois leaders who aren't waiting to find out how far this unconscionable scam goes before getting to work to stop it.

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