Bill would stop governments from suing citizens who challenge new taxes

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Posted: Aug 24, 2017 11:00 AM

Illinois lawmakers are pushing to keep governments from suing citizens for challenging the legality of a new tax.

In the wake of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s punitive lawsuit against a group that challenged the legality of her penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks, state Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, sponsored a bill that would ban the practice.

Preckwinkle sought $17 million from the Illinois Retail Merchants’ Association for challenging the constitutionality of the tax and holding up collections for a month. The county eventually withdrew its retribution request against IRMA.

Wheeler says a government shouldn’t be able to use the legal system to punish a citizen challenging its authority.

“A lot of people have given the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that our liberties are intact and this is one way to start taking them away,” he said. “If you can stop people from asking questions about a tax, you can stop them from asking about anything. That’s a horrible precedent to set.”

Preckwinkle withdrew her lawsuit earlier this month after receiving criticism for filing it in the first place.

The penny-per-ounce tax adds $1.44 to the cost of a 12-pack of canned soda, or 68 cents to a 2-liter bottle. It also is imposed on fountain drinks.

Wheeler’s bill is waiting a committee assignment in the state House.