Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court

A $10-billion lawsuit was back before the Illinois Supreme Court Tuesday. A group of smokers say Philip Morris defrauded them into thinking light cigarettes were safer than regular — but lost the case a decade ago. Now they’re hoping for another bite at the apple.

The case was decided way back in 2005, when a sharply divided Illinois Supreme Court overturned the record $10-billion judgment. The justices ruled that the Federal Trade Commission had approved marketing “light” cigarettes as safer.

A bill moving through the General Assembly would allow transgender people more rights post-mortem.

Michael J. Madigan headshot

This week, Illinois House Democrats defeated Governor Rauner's "Right to Work" agenda.  Also, with the Illinois Supreme Court's decision last week, the future of state pension funding is still in question.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois Democrats have knocked one of the new Republican governor's top priorities down to an easy defeat. The Illinois House yesterday voted against Bruce Rauner's notion of local right-to-work zones. The issue is highly contentious on its own. But a broader division was also at play. Before we get to the right-to-work debate, it's important to rewind some.

Zach Bernard

New ways to tackle Illinois' underfunded pension systems could be emerging, as the Republican governor appears to be backing away from his plan.

There's good reason many lawmakers are feeling flummoxed. Illinois' budget is already sagging. And with last week's state Supreme Court decision tossing a major pension law, the deficit is larger still.

The court decision was unequivocal - it's not constitutional to cut state employees' retirement benefits.

Amanda Vinicky

The Illinois House held its first hearing on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposal to address the state’s unfunded pension liability. 

Under the governor's plan, employees would keep all the retirement benefits they have logged so far, but would see a cut to their benefits going forward. Democrats on the House's pension committee said last week’s Illinois Supreme Court opinion, overturning pension changes passed two years ago, rules out that idea.

Amanda Vinicky

Gov. Bruce Rauner's right-to-work proposal will get a hearing today in the Illinois House. Unions are putting pressure on lawmakers to vote against the proposal.

Though the Illinois House is set to vote on the Republican governor's idea of local right-to-work zones, it's not because Rauner's pushing for a vote.

Gov. Rauner unveiled the concept in late January, during an appearance in Decatur, and has talked about it a lot since. But no actual legislation's been introduced. There are only weeks left in the legislative session.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

The former chairman of Amtrak told Illinois lawmakers Wednesday that service cuts are inevitable should Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposed 40 percent funding cut takes effect.

Fifty-six Amtrak trains run daily in Illinois. They run from Chicago to St. Louis, to Carbondale, to Quincy and up to Milwaukee, and more travelers are riding them.

Amtrak's former chairman Thomas Carper says he can't say how many, or which of those routes will be dropped.

But he says that will happen if Illinois doesn't come through with about $42 million.

Lisa Ryan/WUIS

The Illinois State Museum, located next to the statehouse in Springfield, is being renamed for the late U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon.

Dixon passed away last year, but he left behind a legacy of service and the ability to work in a bipartisan manner.

Several Illinois leaders gathered for the dedication ceremony. House Speaker Michael Madigan started as a state representative in 1971, when Dixon was a state senator.

"He was always a joy to be with," Madigan said. "Always a laugh, old story, reminiscing about whatever it may be which concerned a bottle of beer."


Illinois House Democrats continued to advance budget means that would restore funding to human services programs that the governor proposes cutting.

Republicans continue to question Democrats' motive. They say it's more of a partisan play than a real budget vote.

GOP Rep. Ron Sandack from Downers Grove complained that the measures did not go through typical budget procedures.

"We gotta get past this and actually engage in a budget process that's inclusive, bipartisan and actually moves the needle," Sandack said. "This does nothing but waste time."

For the second time in as many weeks, the Illinois House today held a special hearing known as a committee on the whole, centered on part of Gov. Bruce Rauner's "Turnaround Agenda" -- this time, centered on what business interests call "tort reform." Critics say it's tort deform.

Lisa Ryan/WUIS

Illinois voters passed a constitutional amendment last year to ensure crime victims' rights. Now lawmakers are working to make the criminal code match up.

Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins fights for victims' rights because her sister, brother-in-law and their child were murdered. She was denied the right to provide a victim impact statement. Even though Illinois law allowed impact statements at the time, it didn't allow victims any recourse if they were denied.

Lisa Ryan/WUIS

The Illinois Cancer Action Network is calling attention to breast and cervical cancer screenings, especially as some of those programs face cuts.

The governor's proposed budget would reduce funding for breast and cervical cancer screenings by 71 percent. Democratic Rep. Mike Smiddy of Hillsdale is opposed. He says his wife is a cancer survivor, and without early screening his children might not have a mother.

Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court

It took legislators years of talking about Illinois' pension problem before they did much about it. There was a 2011 law that affects state employees, university professors, and public school teachers hired after that time. Then in 2013 they passed a law that reduced current workers' and retirees' benefits. Nearly immediately, workers and their unions sued, calling the law unconstitutional. 

Amanda Vinicky

Credit ratings agencies have had swift reactions to Friday's state Supreme Court decision that found Illinois' 2013 pension law unconstitutional.

Illinois' was expecting to save billions by reducing state workers, teachers' and university employees' retirement benefits. But not anymore, thanks to an unanimous decision by the state's high court tossing the law.

Gov. Bruce Rauner says the Illinois Supreme Court's decision striking down the state's public pension overhaul was ``fair and right.''  

The Republican governor says he has long believed that the 2013 law aimed at reducing a $111 billion shortfall was unconstitutional.  

That was the view of the justices who unanimously ruled against it Friday. They said the measure violated the state constitution because it would leave pension promises ``diminished or impaired.''  

State Week logo
Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the 2013 pension legislation that would have cut retirement benefits for state wokers.  Meanwhile, the House began debating the governor’s "Turnaround Agenda."  And Governor Rauner personally addressed the Chicago City Council.  Illinois Issues Executive Editor Jamey Dunn joins the panel discussion.

Lloyd Karmeier
Brian Mackey / WUIS

The Illinois Supreme Court has struck down legislation that tried to cut retirement benefits for thousands of state workers.

In a unanimous decision, the high court says lawmakers overstepped their power when they sought to cut pension benefits for state employees, university workers and public school teachers.

Illinois pensions are protected by the state Constitution, but the state argued a financial emergency meant those protections could be disregarded.

(This story first appeared on the Illinois Issues blog last summer that appeared to set the stage for overturning the pension law.  Jamey Dunn looked at what other choices remain for state leaders)

Lisa Ryan/WUIS

After partisan debating over the budget, Democrats and Republicans came together in America's pastime.

Lawmakers put aside partisan differences to play softball. Forget Republicans versus Democrats; this match pits Senate against the House.

Rep. Anthony DeLuca, a Democrat from Chicago Heights, was named Most Valuable Player for the House. DeLuca says the annual game is a way for lawmakers to become teammates rather than opponents.

"There's a lot of camaraderie. It's good," he said. "People that don't normally talk to each other are talking, and it's good for that."

House floor
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposal to cut the state budget took a spectacular fall Wednesday in the Illinois House.

The new Republican governor's plan reduces Illinois' budget by $6 billion for the next fiscal year.

That means doing away with, or spending less, on everything from healthcare for the poor, autism services and support for older foster kids.

No GOP legislator has actually introduced a bill that would precipitate those cuts. So in a surprise move, the Democratic Speaker of the House, Michael Madigan, took it upon himself.

Exelon is amping up its threat to close three nuclear power plants, unless there's help from the legislature.

The company says it's not a bailout and instead argues its trying to level the playing field. Illinois already gives some incentives for renewable sources, like energy and wind.

Supporters of Exelon's measure, like Democratic Rep. Larry Walsh, Jr. of Joliet, say nuclear power deserves that push.

Lisa Ryan/WUIS

Olympic gold medal winner Jackie Joyner-Kersee says she never imagined as a girl growing up in East St. Louis that she would one day speak at an event hosted by the governor. Gov. Bruce Rauner introduced her, but didn't stay for her speech.

"To the head table, I am honored to be in your presence. To, you know, the governor, he left," she said.

Rauner was scheduled to be in Chicago three hours after he left. He was originally supposed to give a presentation, but that was taken out of the program.

Amanda Vinicky

Illinois just overhauled its workers' compensation system in 2011, but lawmakers are considering further changes at the behest of businesses and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. The full Illinois House spent much of Tuesday in a rare, full committee meeting focused on workers' compensation. But they didn't vote.

Businesses say workers' comp is one of their biggest competitive disadvantages compared with companies in neighboring states.

Lisa Ryan/WUIS

As Illinois faces major budget problems, everyone has a different answer for which services to cut and which taxes to raise.

Mike Nobis is worried. His commercial printing company has been in Quincy, Illinois for 108 years. He says he's struggling to compete with other companies, especially those across the border in Missouri.

Illinois' current sales tax does not cover most services. Nobis says if that tax is expanded to cover the printing industry, he might go out of business.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

*Update - according to the Illinois State Board of Elections, the hearing originally scheduled for May 7, has been delayed until the morning of June 10.

The State Board of Elections will hold a hearing to determine whether Governor Bruce Rauner's campaign violated state elections law.

Bruce Rauner's campaign spent at least $65 million to win the governor's office. Now, state election authorities are looking into whether he missed a deadline to report some of that success.

Govs. Dan Walker, left, and Bruce Rauner.
file / WUIS

If you follow state government long enough, you start to hear the same things over and over again. That holds even across four decades.

Last week, I produced an obituary for the late Gov. Dan Walker, who died at the age of 92. In listening to several of his speeches from 1975 and '76, I was struck by the similarities to the sorts of things we hear from politicians today — particularly Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Both of these men came in after unpopular tax hikes, and both downplayed their wealth with folksy images. So I'm asking the question: Are they essentially the same guy?

Amanda Vinicky

It was weeks after Abraham Lincoln's death in mid-April, that has body made it from Washington, D.C. back to Springfield, Illinois. The lifting of a replica coffin from a car designed to look like Lincoln's funeral train began a series events this weekend in Springfield, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the president's death and burial.

Pamela Nation

Friday was Girl Scout Day at the Capitol, and hundreds of Girl Scouts marched to the Statehouse to learn more about government and the history of Illinois.

About 2,000 Girl Scouts gathered in the Illinois capital to earn their Citizenship badge.

Kate Peters of Girl Scouts of Central Illinois says during part of the expo, the girls spoke to women in different careers.

“How impactful for them to see stuff like that and know, 'hey one day that can be me,'" Peters said. "One day, one of these girls will be governor of Illinois.”

Jaegar Moore /

 Some social service agencies and funeral homes are set to resume business as they had before the now-infamous Good Friday elimination of several state grants.

Gov. Bruce Rauner aides announced Thursday that the state received an unexpected influx of tax revenue that will be used to restore the $26 million in grant suspensions. The money will fund programs such as support for those with autism and epilepsy, indigent burials and utility assistance.