Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Owes FBI Millions for Fingerprint, Background Checks

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Illinois Owes FBI Millions for Fingerprint, Background Checks

Article excerpt

SPRINGFIELD, ILL. * Illinois, on the cusp of a second year without a state budget, counts among its many unpaid bills one that threatens to provoke a dispute with the nation's top crime-fighting force.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act show that the state owes $3 million to the FBI for processing fingerprints and conducting background checks for professional licenses and permits. The debt is old enough that it could be turned over to the federal government's collection agency the Treasury Department.

The delinquent payment is just the latest unexpected consequence of a stalemate between the Republican governor and Democrats controlling the Legislature. The gridlock has left Illinois without a budget since July 1 and exacerbated a long-standing backlog of debt. As of Tuesday, the state had more than $7 billion in unpaid bills.

"The breadth of the issues covered by the budget impasse never ceases to amaze me," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Democrat from the Chicago suburb of Northbrook and chairwoman of the House Judiciary Committee on civil matters.

Gov. Bruce Rauner, a millionaire businessman in his first term, is holding out for changes in law to cut business costs and restrict the power of labor unions. Democrats say consideration of Rauner's business and political agenda should take a back seat to taming a multibillion-dollar deficit through spending cuts and tax increases.

The fingerprinting money has already been set aside. There's nearly $19 million in an account used to pay for FBI fingerprint expertise. But without a legislative appropriation, no one has any authority to spend the money.

The FBI says states rarely fall more than four months behind in payments, but it has never cut services, and it has not stopped examining Illinois fingerprints.

A spokesman for the agency's Criminal Justice Information Service, Stephen Fischer, said the agency was exploring "alternative collection and processing options" to continue serving Illinois without additional expense. He did not elaborate.

Ken Zercie, who retired as laboratory director for the Connecticut Department of Public Safety, said the importance of verifying identity and criminal backgrounds means it was a safe bet that the Justice Department wouldn't shut the door on Illinois. …

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