Statehouse

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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State Week
2:24 pm
Fri February 28, 2014

Listen To State Week - February 28, 2014

Credit Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, money and the run-up to the Republican gubernatorial primary.  Also, a scathing audit result for a state anti-violence program.

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Statehouse
6:43 am
Thu February 27, 2014

DCFS Director Resigns After One Month

Arthur Bishop
Credit WBEZ

The director of the state's child welfare agency who pleaded guilty to stealing money from clients of a Chicago social-service agency 20 years ago has resigned from his post.  

Department of Children and Family Services Director Arthur Bishop submitted a letter of resignation to Gov. Pat Quinn's office Wednesday. The letter notes that his background could be a distraction for Quinn in the upcoming election.  

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Disaster Aid Denied
6:00 am
Thu February 27, 2014

Illinois Politicians Challenge FEMA Formula UPDATED

A home all but wiped away in Washington, Ill. during the November tornado.
Lee Strubinger/WUIS

UPDATE:  On Tues., March 4, FEMA denied Illinois' appeal for public assistance for nine counties.  

This week, Gov. Pat Quinn gave a keynote speech at a forum in Washington, D.C. on natural disasters. The governor says Illinois has suffered a record-number of incidents in recent years. And yet the state has come up short when it's sought help from the federal government. That includes a rejection following the outbreak of 25 tornados in Illinois at the end of last year — tornadoes from which the towns of Washington, Gifford, and others are still recovering.

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Minimum wage debate
5:56 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Ralliers Demand Minimum Wage Bump

Minimum wage workers and union members rally for a higher minimum wage in the Capitol rotunda.
Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  The battle over raising the minimum wage got lot louder on Wednesday. Several hundred minimum wage workers and union members rallied in the Capitol.

A coalition of unions and activist groups lobbied lawmakers and shared their stories of life on minimum wage.

Rachel Bittenbender is 25 and earning $8.25 an hour. She works just shy of full-time at a fast food restaurant in Dixon, near Rockford.

"After I pay my bills? That's about it," she said. "I have a little bit aside to help with some groceries...and then get my car with some gas if I need it for that week."

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Statehouse
2:44 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Lawmaker Calls For Reducing Propane Sales Tax

Credit flickr/rejon

A southern Illinois lawmaker wants to temporarily cut the tax on propane.  
The Belleville News-Democrat reports the proposal is being introduced by Salem Republican Rep. John Cavaletto.

He wants to lower the tax from 6.25 percent to 1.25 percent. If it's approved, the decrease would take effect June 1 and last through August.  
 

Cavaletto says the temporary reprieve could mean ``hundreds of dollars in savings for the average homeowner'' if they fill propane tanks before the temperature drops in the fall.  
His says his bill would offer one-time relief.  

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Election 2014
1:50 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Dillard Picks Up Teachers' Endorsement; Rauner Still Pouring Own Money Into Race

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kirk Dillard, a state senator from Hinsdale, accepts the endorsement of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association Wednesday in the Illinois Capitol.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kirk Dillard got the endorsement of a retired group of teachers Wednesday. But he’s still lagging front-runner Bruce Rauner, who continues to tap his significant personal fortune for his campaign.

The Illinois Retired Teachers Association has nearly 36,000 members. President Bob Pinkerton says this is the first time the group has endorsed a candidate for governor.

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Statehouse
5:49 am
Wed February 26, 2014

Effort To Consolidate Pension Lawsuits

Efforts are underway to consolidate four lawsuits challenging Illinois' new pension reform law.  

Lawyers representing the respective groups of state retirees who filed class-action suits have asked the Supreme Court to allow them to present their cases as one.  

The groups share the common claim that the new pension reform plan violates the state constitution, which says benefits may not be diminished.  

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'Hastily Implemented'
11:50 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

Audit Slams Anti-Violence Program Pushed By Quinn

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

An audit Tuesday criticized an anti-violence program Governor Pat Quinn pushed during his 2010 election campaign.Republicans wasted no time in calling for an investigation.

The non-partisan audit (PDF) says the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was "hastily implemented" and did not use standard financial safeguards.

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Statehouse
4:07 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

House Sets Spending Cap — Down $1b From Last Year

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois House took a key first step in the state budgeting process Tuesday.

It adopted what's called a "revenue estimate" — how much money Illinois is expected to be able to spend in the next fiscal year.

The cap, of $34.495 billion, is significant in several ways: It's about a billion less than last year's number, which means lawmakers are going to have extend the tax increase or find other sources of money, or they'll have to make a lot of cuts. On the other hand, it's not as bad as some people had feared.

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Prosecutor Backing Electronic Privacy Bill

The Illinois Senate is considering limits on the ways law enforcement can use electronic tracking information. Both privacy advocates and police are in favor of the change.

With the popularity of GPS-enabled smart phones, many of us are constantly broadcasting our location. And Illinois law doesn't have much to say about how that information can and can't be used against us in court.

Privacy advocates want restrictions. And even law enforcement can be left guessing as to what's legal.

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Statehouse
10:37 am
Mon February 24, 2014

State Fiscal 'Toolbox' Available To Better Explain Budget Issues

David Merriman
Credit igpa

Illinois, like many states, suffered financially during the recession.  But an economist says Illinois was in a weaker position to deal with the challenge.    

David Merriman is with the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs.  
The Institute has developed what's called the Illinois Budget Policy Toolbox.  Merriman says it will provide information on the state's finances and analysis of proposals that come up during an election year.

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Statehouse
7:18 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Quinn Getting Campaign Operation in Gear

Credit Amanda Vinicky

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is ramping up his re-election campaign. 

Quinn's campaign announced over the weekend the Chicago Democrat has hired Illinois native Bill Hyers to serve as chief strategist. 

Hyers most recently managed Bill de Blasio's successful campaign for mayor of New York. In 2012 he managed President Barack Obama's Pennsylvania campaign operation. He was Midwest director for Obama in 2008.  

Quinn is seeking his second full term. He faces a lesser-known opponent, anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman of Hillside, in the March 18 primary.  

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Higher Ed
6:00 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Legislation Would Block Faculty Loans

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to crack down on universities giving a certain type of interest-free loan to faculty. Except it doesn’t seem to be happening in Illinois.

State Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat from Marnego, says the legislation is meant to prevent universities from abusing their tax-exempt status.

“What we found was that tax-exempt universities were giving interest-free … loans, and also forgiving loans, for second homes for professors, at a time when students are taking on excessive debt," Franks says.

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Statehouse
4:25 pm
Fri February 21, 2014

AP: Rutherford Spent $27k To Probe Lawsuit Charges

Dan Rutherford

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford spent nearly $27,000 in taxpayer money on an investigation into allegations of political coercion and
sexual harassment against him.
 
 The Republican candidate for governor revealed the cost of the report under the
Freedom of Information Act. But his lawyers have refused to disclose results of the investigation into the former employee's charges.
 
 Edmund Michalowski claimed in a federal lawsuit Feb. 10 that Rutherford

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Statehouse
2:44 pm
Fri February 21, 2014

Same Sex Couple Weds In Cook County After Judge's Ruling

One Illinois same-sex couple has gotten married after a judge ruled ruled gay couples in the Chicago area don't have to wait until June to marry.
 
Mercedes Santos and Theresa Volpe were married Friday afternoon in downtown Chicago. They have been together 22 years and have three children. Clerk David Orr said he would start offering the licenses Friday after the federal judge's ruling. It applies only to Cook County.
 
A judge waived the 24-hour waiting period for Santos and Volpe because they were plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
 

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State Week
1:47 pm
Fri February 21, 2014

Listen To State Week - February 21, 2014

Credit Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, the latest news from the candidates vying for the Republican nomination in the next Governor's race.

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Statehouse
12:05 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Arizona Pension Case Could Chart Course for Illinois

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

A court case decided in Arizona Thursday could have implications for Illinois' ongoing legal battle over pensions. The decision (pdf), by the Arizona Supreme Court, struck down an attempt to reduce Arizona officials' retirement benefits.

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Minimum wage debate
5:55 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Minimum Wage Debate Moves To Universities

  The president of Southern Illinois University came out against raising the state's minimum wage on Thursday. President Glenn Poshard says it'd be too big a hit on the school's bottom line.

While the battle for a higher minimum wage brews in Springfield, Poshard warns of casualties in Carbondale and Edwardsville. Programs at those two campuses, he says, would be hurt in the long run.

"Maintaining the current level of student employment would likely require spending decreases in other areas," he said.

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Sugar tax
5:46 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Proposed Beverage Tax Could Bring Down Health Costs; Unions Oppose Measure

Sen. Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago)
Credit Courtesy of ILGA.gov

  Illinois already has so-called 'sin taxes' on alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Now lawmakers are trying to add sugary drinks to that list. The proposal faces an uphill battle in Springfield.

Sin taxes have a dual purpose: deterring people from what's regarded as undesirable behavior, and generating extra tax money.

In this case, lawmakers want to charge a penny per ounce of sugar-sweetened drinks like soda.

They say it would generate 600 million dollars in revenue. Half the money would go to the state's healthcare program for the poor.

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Smoking in cars with children
5:32 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Proposal To Ban Smoking While Driving Children Raises Privacy Questions

Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  State lawmakers are considering legislation to prevent smoking in cars with children. Though the measure is aimed at protecting passengers' health, the proposal is raising questions about personal privacy.

The measure would make it illegal to smoke in a car with a minor, but a police officer couldn't pull over drivers just for lighting up.

Even so, Kathy Drea, of the American Lung Association, says putting a law on the books sends a message to smokers.

Drea compares the proposal to other laws pertaining to vehicles.

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Tax credits for the working poor
5:27 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Lawmakers Considering Doubling Tax Credit For Poor

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago)
Credit Courtesy of ILGA.gov

  Efforts to raise the minimum wage have been getting a lot of attention, but it's not the only proposal intended to improve the lives of the working poor. Following the call of Gov. Pat Quinn, some lawmakers want to double Illinois' tax credit for low income workers.

The earned income tax credit began as a federal program, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

Illinois added its own state tax credit later. It's aimed at helping people work their way out of poverty by increasing their spending power.

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Healthcare
5:17 pm
Thu February 20, 2014

Healthcare Proposal Worries Disabilities Advocates

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Advocates for people with disabilities say they're worried Governor Pat Quinn's newest healthcare initiative would crowd out certain groups.

The governor's proposal would consolidate nine separate programs that serve people with disabilities. Michael Gelder, the governor's senior advisor on healthcare, says centralizing these programs would be more efficient.

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Statehouse
8:57 am
Thu February 20, 2014

Illinois Legislation Targets 'Revenge Porn'

The now-shuttered Is Anyone Up? was an early "revenge porn" site.
Credit Internet Archive Wayback Machine

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to increase the penalties for a type of Internet shaming known as "revenge porn." It involves posting naked photos of someone on the Web without their consent.

Diana Pisone is an interior designer from Oak Park. A few years ago, she was in what she describes as an emotionally abusive relationship. Sometimes, when her husband said "do this or else," she'd let him tape her in compromising situations.

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Right To Remain Silent
8:23 am
Thu February 20, 2014

Should Students Get Miranda Warnings?

Credit flickr/LizMarie_AK

Illinois lawmakers are considering what steps police should have to take before questioning kids at school.

The legislation would basically make police read kids their Miranda rights — that they can remain silent, and anything they say can be used against them in court.

It would also make police notify parents they have the opportunity to be present during questioning.

Sen. Kim Lightford, a Democrat from Maywood, calls it a "student bill of rights."

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Statehouse
7:13 am
Thu February 20, 2014

Illinois Bill Would Exempt Olympians From Paying State Tax

Credit NBC

It is an example of a measure that might not affect many people.

An Illinois lawmaker says Olympic athletes who win medals shouldn't have to pay state tax on their awards.

State Sen. Julie Morrison is sponsor of legislation approved by a Senate committee Wednesday that would waive the tax.

Morrison is a Democrat from the Chicago suburb of Deerfield who says she represents many of Illinois' Olympic athletes. She says Olympic athletes proudly represent Illinois and the U.S. and ``we should honor them for their commitment.''

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Statehouse
5:02 am
Thu February 20, 2014

What Lawmakers Know And Don't Know About Illinois Prisons

Credit flickr/dnak

75 % of Illinois lawmakers surveyed by Chicago Public Radio say they have never stepped foot in a maximum security prison cell block. And 40 percent of those legislators have never toured or visited a prison even once.

Yet they’re the ones signing the checks for the $1.3  billion dollar per year agency.

Ninety-five of the 118 House members responded to the survey.

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Election 2014
3:47 am
Wed February 19, 2014

Republicans Race For Governor Becomes "Blood Sport"

One month, to the day, before the primary election, the four men running for the Republican nomination for governor debated one another in Springfield.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

The four men seeking the Republican nomination for governor met in a debate Tuesday (2/18) night in Springfield, the last time they're scheduled to appear together downstate before next month's primary election.

With political newcomer Bruce Rauner leading in the polls and in fundraising, debates are a chance for the three other candidates to talk directly to voters, free of charge.

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