Statehouse

Statehouse
6:00 am
Thu March 13, 2014

Reducing The Number Of State Laws Not So Simple

Credit dnr.illinois.gov

The name “lawmaker” implies someone who helps pass laws.  But some who serve in the role are critical of that part of the job description.  Lee Strubinger looks at why they say there are too many laws on the books. 

Every year when the Illinois General Assembly goes in to session, a regular drumbeat of new proposals are debated.  They deal with topics from crime, to regulation and even seemingly innocuous measures to honor someone or something.    

More than 600 new laws were signed in the last year alone.

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Statehouse
7:13 am
Wed March 12, 2014

GOP Candidates Face University of Illinois Admissions Question

The Republican contenders for governor are facing questions about their roles in a five-year-old admissions scandal at the University of Illinois.  

The scandal involved some politicians using clout to get students enrolled. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sen. Kirk Dillard have acknowledged their names are on the list the University of Illinois maintained of lawmakers who called to check on applications. They were asked about it at a televised debate last week.  

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Election 2014
6:30 am
Wed March 12, 2014

"The Limit Is Winning The Race"

The Republican candidates for governor: Sen. Bill Brady, Sen. Kirk Dillard, Bruce Rauner, Treasurer Dan Rutherford
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Illinois had long been the holdout: a state without any limits on campaign contributions. Prosecutors say former Governor Rod Blagojevich took full advantage of that freedom, as he solicited donations in exchange for favors and state jobs. His arrest spurred lawmakers into action.

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Statehouse
3:40 pm
Tue March 11, 2014

Court: Unplayed Blagojevich Tapes To Stay Sealed

An appellate court in Chicago says transcripts of FBI wiretaps
not played at Rod Blagojevich's corruption trials will remain sealed.
 
The 7th U.S. Court of Appeals is still mulling its decision on the imprisoned
former Illinois governor's request to toss his convictions.
 
Appellate courts typically unseal documents submitted as part of an appeal. But
prosecutors later asked that the transcripts submitted to the appeals court not
entered into evidence at the trials remain under seal. Blagojevich's attorneys
wanted them opened.  
 

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Student loans
9:41 am
Tue March 11, 2014

Lawmaker Wants European Model Of Student Loans

Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo)
Credit ilga.gov

  A plan that could lead to Illinois changing its student loan repayment programs is moving through the General Assembly. The new method would let students pay back loans based on their income, instead of a set schedule.

The model is a European one, often used in the U.K. and Australia, says sponsor Jack Franks (D-Marengo). Franks says he wants to prevent college grads from being shackled to large debt payments.

Currently, students have to begin making steady payment shortly after they graduate, whether or not they've found a job, and regardless of how much that job pays.

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Gun Control
6:11 pm
Mon March 10, 2014

Majority Feel Less Safe Since Concealed Carry Law

As Illinois gun owners increasingly are allowed to carry their firearms as they go about their daily lives -- a new poll shows half of Illinois voters feel less safe. Qualifying gun-owners began receiving their licenses to carry loaded firearms earlier this month.

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Term limits
9:34 am
Mon March 10, 2014

Rep. Rodney Davis Supports Term Limits; Won't Self-Impose

  Calls to institute term limits in Illinois have gained traction in the race for governor, helped along by a well-funded campaign that seeks to limit how long politicians can serve in the state legislature. A freshman Congressman says he supports the effort ... but only to a degree.

Congressman Rodney Davis (IL-13) says he has not yet signed the petition that calls for limiting members of the Illinois General Assembly to eight year terms. But he says that he would.

Davis, a Republican from Taylorville, says he also backs term limits for Congress, at least in concept.

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Statehouse
7:19 am
Mon March 10, 2014

Illinois Pays Penalty For Bad Fiscal Image

Professor Martin Luby
Credit igpa

When it comes to finances, the State of Illinois has a poor reputation.   New research shows how the state's negative perception is costing taxpayers. 

Illinois already has the worst credit rating among states.  And while that adds to the cost of borrowing money, Illinois winds up paying even more because investors view it as risky of default.

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Election 2014
6:00 am
Mon March 10, 2014

Why Are Republicans Avoiding Social Issues?

The four candidates for governor seem to be downplaying social issues in this year's Republican primary.
Credit WUIS

Illinois' economy has been topic A among the men seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Getting far less attention are social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. For a party whose rough primaries have often been compared to “circular firing squads,” the lack of focus on the topic is unusual. Brian Mackey looks at what’s behind the social silence.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, from Hinsdale, can tell you exactly how close he came to winning the Republican gubernatorial primary four years ago.

MACKEY: “Was it 193 votes?”

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Statehouse
5:41 pm
Fri March 7, 2014

Audit Of Quinn Program Sent To Authorities

A scathing audit of an anti-violence program launched by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2010 has been sent to law enforcement authorities.  

Republican lawmakers released a letter Friday from Auditor General William Holland. It indicated the audit of Quinn's $55 million ``Neighborhood Recovery Initiative'' went to James Lewis, U.S. attorney for the central district of Illinois, and Ricardo Meza, the state's executive inspector general. The legislators had asked Holland to forward his findings.  

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State Week
1:37 pm
Fri March 7, 2014

Listen To State Week - March 7, 2014

This week, more discussion of the upcoming primary elections, gun rights activists press for fewer restrictions, and differences of opinion in the state legislature over next year's budget.

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Election 2014
6:59 am
Fri March 7, 2014

Big Opportunity For Republicans As Poll Shows Quinn "Dread"

  The Republican race is heating up as the March 18 election nears, but Gov. Pat Quinn faces only nominal primary opposition. He's likely safe for now, but a new poll shows Quinn could have trouble holding onto his seat come the general election.

"The Walking Dread." That's the headline "We Ask America" used on its website to announce the results of its latest Illinois poll, a brief survey of just over 1,100 likely Democratic voters. As in, probable members of Quinn's own party.

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Statehouse
6:04 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

Fifth Lawsuit Filed Against Illinois Pension Law

An Illinois House voting board in December shows the results for what would become a pension overhaul law.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

A fifth lawsuit has been filed by state employees challenging Illinois' new pension law.  
The lawsuit from current and former employees at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and Parkland Community College was filed in Champaign County Circuit Court Thursday.  

It says the legislation passed by the General Assembly in December violates several provisions of the state constitution, which says retirement benefits should not be diminished or impaired and private property should not be ``taken or damaged for public use.''  

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Election 2014
5:15 pm
Thu March 6, 2014

Dillard Campaign Gets On TV: Watch

Senator Kirk Dillard, R- Hinsdale, who's trying for the second time for the GOP nomination for governor.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

With less than two weeks until the primary election, Bruce Rauner will no longer be the only candidate airing self-promotional T-V ads in Illinois. Senator Kirk Dillard is airing campaign commercials of his own.

The commercials Bruce Rauner has been airing for months, thanks mostly to the more than $6 million dollars he's put into his campaign, have helped him surge ahead in polls for the GOP race for governor.

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Election 2014
11:56 am
Thu March 6, 2014

Dillard's AFSCME Endorsement: Too Little, Too Late?

AFSCME is the third government-employee union to endorse state Sen. Kirk Dillard for governor, coming after the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Republican candidate for governor Kirk Dillard has picked up the endorsement of the the state's largest government-employee union. But with less than two weeks until the election, Brian Mackey asks if it's too little, too late.

Dillard's endorsement from AFSCME comes after front runner Bruce Rauner has been blanketing the state with television ads for months.

Rauner has been pounding a message that he'll fight so-called "government union bosses." He says state employees bargaining for salaries and benefits is "corrupt" and "immoral," and one of Illinois' biggest problems.

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Children's health
8:29 am
Thu March 6, 2014

Children's Advocacy Group Calls For Increased State Funding

 Low-income children in Illinois are getting better healthcare coverage. But a new study says racial and socioeconomic disparities still exist. Voices for Illinois Children, the advocacy group behind the research, says its number one obstacle is state funding.

The group cites the expansion of Medicaid — the state's health program for low-income individuals — as having the single biggest impact on the well-being of kids in poverty.

Republicans (and some Democrats) in the General Assembly say Medicaid spending is unsustainable, and needs to be rolled back.

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Statehouse
6:15 am
Thu March 6, 2014

GOP Governor Candidates Argue Pensions

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Republican candidates for Illinois governor are arguing about pension reform and the state's finances in the second-to-last debate ahead of the March 18 primary.  

State Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, businessman Bruce Rauner  and Treasurer Dan Rutherford attended the debate Wednesday hosted by WGN-TV and the Chicago Tribune.  

Brady is the only one who supported a recent pension overhaul that cuts benefits for state workers and retirees. Dillard voted against it, which has been the reason that several unions have endorsed him.  

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Concealed Carry
9:57 am
Wed March 5, 2014

Gun Rights Activists Rally For Fewer Gun-Free Zones

Pro-gun ralliers march toward the Statehouse on Wednesday. Signs like the one in the foreground express the rationale that women are better protected from would-be attackers with the right to carry.
Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  Gun rights activists from across Illinois were in Springfield Wednesday, asking lawmakers to ease restrictions on where they're allowed to carry concealed weapons.

"Gun-free zones are killing zones," the crowd chanted in the Capitol rotunda. Hundreds of advocates marched to the Statehouse to rally for their Second Amendment rights. Among them was Sharon Mausey of Crab Orchard, in far southern Illinois. She says receiving her concealed carry license on Tuesday was a long-awaited dream come true.

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Election 2014
8:25 am
Wed March 5, 2014

Candidates Disagree On Government Unions

The men seeking the Republican nomination for governor of Illinois: state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady, investor Bruce Rauner, and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois' primary election is less than two weeks away. The four men seeking the Republican nomination for governor agree on a lot of topics. But there is an issue in which one of the candidates has distinguished himself: government-employee unions. Brian Mackey takes us inside the debate over whether government workers ought to be able to negotiate over their jobs.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time listening to investor Bruce Rauner to know where he stands on public-sector unions. The disdain drips from a three word phrase he uses again and again and again:

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Obama Presidential Library
8:25 pm
Tue March 4, 2014

Speaker Madigan Proposes $100 Million For Obama Library

Credit BarackObama.com

  The Democratic and Republican leaders of the Illinois House are taking opposing views on whether Illinois should promise taxpayer money to try and lure President Barack Obama's library and museum to Chicago.

The head of Illinois' Democratic Party, Michael Madigan, wants Illinois to spend $100 million dollars on a Presidential Library and Museum for Barack Obama.

It's up to Obama to choose where it'll be located.

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Statehouse
10:49 am
Tue March 4, 2014

Republican Wants Federal Scrutiny Of Anti-Violence Program

Sen. Christine Radogno
Credit senatorradogno.org

A Republican legislative leader wants a federal review of a Chicago anti-violence program ordered by Gov. Pat Quinn.
 
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno says an audit of the $55 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative need more scrutiny.
 
Her comments were reported (http://bit.ly/MKJO2D ) by the Chicago Sun-Times.
 
A late February audit said the program was so hastily organized and sloppily
executed that auditors questioned 40 percent of expenditures claimed by service
providers.
 

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Education
7:35 pm
Mon March 3, 2014

Military Children Hampered By Illinois Laws, Advocates Say

Credit flickr/LizMarie_AK

  Moving to a new state is never easy, especially when you’re a school-aged kid. But for military families who move more frequently than most, laws in Illinois create a unique challenge — and, in some cases, a barrier to entry.

Think back to the last time you were ‘the new kid.’ Maybe it was freshman year of college, or when you started a new job or even joined a book club.

Now multiply that ‘new kid’ experience by three and factor in how awkward grade school is … and you might be a little closer to knowing what it’s like to be a military kid.

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Environment
7:16 pm
Mon March 3, 2014

Environmental Groups Call For Controls For Coal Ash

Credit Courtesy of Wiki Commons

  There are 90 aging coal-ash pits in Illinois — piles of slag left behind when coal is burned for energy. Now coal-ash residue is starting to show up in the water supply. Environmental groups are asking for tougher state regulations.

The Sierra Club of Illinois and the Prairie Rivers Network are among a number of environmental groups lobbying the state to hold energy suppliers accountable for coal-ash pollution.

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Higher Education
7:06 pm
Mon March 3, 2014

Universities Feeling Pressure From Decreased Enrollment

Credit University of Illinois, Springfield

  Enrollment is down at many of Illinois' public universities. As Hannah Meisel reports, the lost tuition is hurting schools' bottom line.

As the state has cut funding to higher education, universities have made up for the losses by raising tuition. But when there are fewer students to pay, colleges feel the squeeze all over again.

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Taxing retirement income
6:54 pm
Mon March 3, 2014

Civic Federation Calls For Taxing Retirement Income

  As more baby-boomers retire, Illinois is increasingly missing out on a revenue source. Of the 41 states with an income tax, Illinois is one of only three that exempt all pension income.

A new report from the Chicago-based Civic Federation says Illinois needs to take a longer-term approach to budgeting; one that is rooted less in politics, and more in reality. Most notably. the group recommends Illinois extend its current income tax rate for a year before gradually rolling it back.

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Pensions
11:45 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Supreme Court Consolidates Pension Lawsuits

Credit WUIS

The Illinois Supreme Court has ordered that four lawsuits challenging Illinois' new pension reform law be consolidated.  

The March 3 order transfers the case filed by a group of retired teachers in Cook County Circuit Court to Sangamon County Circuit Court, where the three other cases were filed.  

The court says all of the cases will be heard together in Springfield.  
Each of the groups' lawsuits share the common claim that the new pension reform plan violates the state constitution, which says benefits may not be diminished or impaired.  

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Public Policy
8:52 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Across The Board Budget Cutting Is Not So Simple

Credit IGPA

When politicians talk about budgets, someone invariably brings up the idea of across the board spending cuts.   It's easy to understand.  it also plays into an inherent fear of big government.

WUIS'  Sean Crawford talked with Chris Mooney, the Director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.   Mooney wrote about the topic as part of a new project called the Illinois Budget Policy Toolbox. 

Mooney says across the board cutting is more complicated than it seems.

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Statehouse
8:14 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Illinois Business Groups Say Deregulation Saved Consumers $

Business groups say utility competition has saved consumers money.
Credit AARP

A new report says electricity deregulation has saved Illinois customers up to $37 billion over the past 16 years.  

The report being released Monday by four business groups says the average household has paid $3,600 less overall than if the average annual electricity rates had stayed the same.  

Deregulation kicked in in 1998, allowing Illinois utilities to compete for business on the open market rather than being regulated monopolies whose rates were set. The utilities before deregulation both supplied and delivered electricity to customers, who had no other choices.  

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Statehouse
7:17 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Civic Federation Has Plan To Balance Illinois Budget

Credit Civic Federation

The Civic Federation is releasing a new proposal it says will balance Illinois' budget, eliminate its bill backlog and reduce taxes.  

The plan includes capping spending to help the state pay off its $5.4 billion backlog of unpaid bills over the next five years.  

It also would extend the state's temporary income tax increase by a year before reducing tax rates gradually, and calls for taxing pension and social security income.  

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Fourth Amendment
6:00 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Legislation Targets Conservation Police

Conservation police officers check the license of a trapper in this Department of Natural Resources photo.
Credit DNR/D.J. Case and Associates

A group of lawmakers is challenging the broad powers enjoyed by Illinois' conservation police officers. At issue is whether the officers can operate on private land without a warrant.

Illinois law lets conservation police enter "all lands and waters" to enforce the Wildlife Code. The idea is, even if you have a huge private forest, you’re not allowed to, say, shoot a deer out of season.

State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a Republican from Elmhurst, says just about every other type of police officer operates under stricter limits.

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