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Rauner yanked the plug on student loan bill of rights. Lawmakers need to bring it back.

An effort to protect Illinois borrowers from abusive and predatory student loan practices is at death's door, and it needs to be jolted back to life.

However, resuscitation requires state lawmakers, when they reconvene this fall, to override Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's recent veto of legislation calling for an Illinois Student Loan Bill of Rights.

Overturning the governor's veto is a long shot — but worth taking. This bill will provide a helping hand to student borrowers and their families coping with an often confusing and complex college loan system.

It's also a significant step toward addressing a growing student loan crisis, one that's dealing with rising defaults and could morph into a nationwide financial catastrophe.

"The student loan debt crisis is having a serious impact on our economy, the largest since the mortgage foreclosure crisis," contends Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office has been tracking the student loan industry for years and drafted the bill that Rauner spiked.

Madigan versus Rauner — doesn't that have a familiar ring?

Nonetheless, Illinois Senate Bill 1351 would provide important, baseline consumer protections for students in this state.

In Illinois, the average amount of a student loan owed is $29,305, according to the latest data from the California-based Project on Student Debt.

The bill would compel loan servicing firms, which administer the lion's share of government-backed student loans, to tell borrowers about all of their repayment options. Those options include a federal program based on a borrower's income that's designed to produce lower, more manageable monthly payments.

The bill also requires servicing companies to tell customers that their loans could be forgiven due to a disability or problems with the school they attended, such as false program certification or sudden closure.

At the root of this legislative push is Madigan's recent investigation into the student loan industry, which uncovered the abusive and wily ways in which this sector can keep borrowers in the dark about their loan repayment alternatives.

In January, the attorney general filed a lawsuit against Navient and related businesses. Delaware-based Navient is one of the country's largest student loan service firms.

The filing alleges Navient didn't properly assist its Illinois-based consumers by telling them about less expensive repayment options. Instead, the lawsuit alleges, the company steered clients into plans that unfairly increased the cost of their loans.

Navient, in an email to me, labeled the lawsuit's allegations as "false" and asserted it has a "superior track record" of helping borrowers find the right way to repay.

That legal wrangling will be settled in court, but right now the student loan service industry has found a buddy in Gov. Rauner.

Rauner's veto message called the bill's intent "laudable" but added its enactment would encroach on the "federal government's responsibilities" to monitor the industry. He added it would place a regulatory burden on the sector and foist confusion on an "already complex student loan process."

It's unclear what federal responsibilities are going to be trampled by this effort to provide basic information to those who really need it.

Illinois wouldn't be getting in the way of the Department of Education, which oversees the loan program and uses taxpayer funds to contract loan service providers.

California, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., already have variations of a student loan bill of rights. Other states are looking into the possibility too.

Enacting this bill also sends a strong signal that Illinois is trying to do its part to avoid, or at least temper, any impending student loan disaster.

The situation is fraught with political intrigue.

Sen. Daniel Biss, a Democrat who is one of the bill's sponsors, is running for governor. Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan, father of the attorney general, have been known to lock horns over an issue or two.

Will Lisa Madigan ask her dad to help bring her important consumer protection bill back from the near-dead?

"We fight our own battles," she told me, but then quickly added: "I should give him a call."

roreed@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @reedtribbiz

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