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Editorial: Lights, camera, no action on film industry oversight

The hit TV show "Chicago Fire" is one of the productions that secured tax breaks for filming movies, TV shows or commercials made in Illinois. | NBC

Follow @csteditorialsIf anybody were inclined to follow a state law, you’d think it would be a state agency.

But the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity doesn’t see it that way. The department has shrugged off a law enacted nine years ago requiring it to produce annual reports on how many women and minorities are hired in the local film industry.

That is no small or bureaucratic matter. At a time when Chicago and the state must do more to create job opportunities for residents of impoverished city neighborhoods, suburbs and small towns, there is a real value in reminding the makers of movies, TV shows and commercials of their responsibility — nobody is talking quotas — to keep diversity in mind when hiring. Their willingness to do so is a consideration when the state awards them tax breaks.

The department, which runs the Illinois Film Office, “must” file those reports every year. But it has not.

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As Tim Novak reported in Sunday’s Sun-Times, Illinois has granted $330 million in tax breaks to the film industry since that law went into effect. But the state department has repeatedly failed to issue the required hiring reports. The department failed to issue any report at all for the first three years. Then it issued reports only on the number of jobs production companies planned to give to minorities and women, not on how many they actually did give.

More recently, the department has begun issuing proper reports, but often not until years after the tax breaks have been awarded. Moreover, the data don’t show how long any of those jobs lasted, though the law requires such reporting. And the department has not produced any reports showing whether companies owned by minorities or women have been hired for the 1,410 productions that were awarded tax breaks.

To get a tax break, film companies don’t have to hire a certain number of women or minorities. Nobody’s twisting anybody’s arm. They just have to report how many they have hired. And the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity simply has to codify that information into a report.

The point of tax breaks for the film industry is to bring new jobs to Illinois — and in a way that best benefits the state.

Without proper reporting, as required by law, nobody can say how that’s working out.

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