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City Council Approves Tax Refund Seizures, Bath Salts Ban

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City Council Chambers

A Chicago City Council meeting. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 02/15/12 1:31 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — City revenue collectors can now take your state income tax refund if you aren’t paying your parking tickets, now that the City Council has approved the plan.

CBS 2 Political Producer Ed Marshall reports the City Council approved allowing the city to seize income tax refunds for scofflaws who have not paid judgments or parking ticket fines. If your tax return is less than what you owe, the remainder can be taken out of future refunds.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports

Ald. Robert Fioretti (2nd) said at the City Council meeting that he is all for seizing tax refunds from residents with outstanding tickets, but he balks at doing likewise for those who have had city judgments against them – because of criticisms that city administrative hearings are like kangaroo courts.

“This is a good tool in the box – I agree – but not based upon the quicksand that we allow this to go forward at this time,” Fioretti said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he is willing to clean up the hearing process, but meanwhile, deadbeats must pay.

“We will not be in favor of deadbeats and delinquents who have been sitting on the sidelines, putting the burdens on the families in your district and throughout the city of Chicago,” the mayor said.

Intercepting tax refunds could bring in $8 million to $20 million over the next two years.

City officials said Chicago is owed some $400 million in unpaid tickets.

The City Council also gave final approval to a ban on “bath salts,” synthetic stimulants that mimic the effects of cocaine.

The measure will bring heavy fines for any store caught selling the substances.

Bath salts are already illegal statewide, but experts say manufacturers keep tweaking the ingredients to get around the ban, and thus, a citywide ban is necessary.

While labeled as additives for baths, “bath salts” actually contain powerful stimulants such as mephedrone and methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), neither of which have a history of being used as bath products.

The product is actually snorted or smoked, and leads to “elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure; very agitated, very confused patients,” Arthur Kubic of the Illinois Poison Control Center told CBS 2 last year.

In December, the City Council also approved a ban on the sale of synthetic marijuana, which is widely regarded as being far more dangerous than the real thing. Until the ban went into effect, synthetic pot was widely available in convenience stores, gas stations and head shops – labeled as potpourri or herbal incense.

Also at the Wednesday meeting:

The City Council approved a settlement with the family of Arielle Starks, who died of bronchial asthma in 2002 after what her family says were a series of mistakes by paramedics. The ambulance that was transporting Starks, 13, to the hospital got into a crash on the way, and an attorney says a breathing tube was placed in her esophagus instead of her trachea.

• The Council approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “ChicagoFirst” procurement ordinance, which expands a bidding preference for Chicago-based businesses when it comes to city contracts, and creates an incentive for local manufacturing.

• Aldermen approved the allocation of $3.7 in Tax Increment Financing funds for to help medical research firm Experimur LLC build a 54,000 square-foot building with new lab space, offices and a vivarium at 4045 S. Morgan St. in the Stockyards Industrial Park. Experimur had been located on the Michael Reese Hospital campus before the hospital closed in 2009.

• Tax Increment Financing assistance has also been awarded to Coyote Logistics, which is receiving $2 million for a 65,000 square-foot build-out at the Green Exchange – the old Frederick Cooper lamp factory at 2565 W. Diversey Ave. The transportation consulting firm moved into the building last year and brought 625 jobs, and the build-out will bring 400 more jobs, according to the Mayor’s office.

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