Statehouse

Economy
8:30 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Illinois Unemployment Second Highest In Nation

Credit IDES

With national unemployment at its lowest level since the start of the Great Recession, the numbers keep going the wrong way in several parts of Illinois.

Peoria, Danville, and Decatur all saw unemployment increase by more than a percentage point.

Still, Gov. Pat Quinn defends his administration's efforts at building the economy.  Thursday, he announced that a German manufacturer will move its U-S headquarters to Schaumburg, a Chicago suburb, a move Quinn says could create 40 jobs.

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Statehouse
5:27 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

Decatur Job Troubles Spur Business Law

DCEO in Springfield.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Thursday's unemployment numbers show Decatur is once again lagging the rest of Illinois. That long-term trend is partly responsible for a new law aimed at changing the way Illinois handles economic development.

In Decatur, 13.2 percent of job-seekers can't find work. State Sen. Andy Manar — a Democrat whose district includes Decatur — says that's part of the reason he thought it was time to blow up the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and start over.

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Statehouse
3:29 pm
Thu August 22, 2013

George Ryan Adjusting To Life After Prison

Fmr. Gov. George Ryan
Credit WBEZ

Former Gov. George Ryan says he's still adjusting to private life in the weeks since his release from home confinement.  
Ryan spoke briefly to The Associated Press Thursday from his home in Kankakee. He says he traveled to Springfield over the weekend to celebrate the birthday of his triplet daughters, one of whom lives in that city.  
He also visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Museum on Saturday with family.  

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Cross Out
5:04 pm
Wed August 21, 2013

Republicans Lined Up For Top House Job

Reps. Jim Durkin, Dwight Kay, and Raymond Poe are among the Republicans said to be seeking the position of House minority leader.
Credit Illinois House of Representatives

Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross on Wednesday told colleagues he would soon step down. There are a handful of lawmakers who've already set their sights on his job.

House Republicans say Cross told them he'd resign as leader in October. He reportedly didn't say what his plans are, although it's widely rumored he intends to run for state treasurer.

There are at least three men who want to lead the 47-members of the House GOP — including Reps. Jim Durkin of Western Springs and Raymond Poe of Springfield.

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Pensions
5:03 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

Pension Returns Up; Problems Remain

Credit Amanda Vinicky

Illinois' largest public pension fund hit a major low in 2012, its rate of return was less than one percent.  But an early analysis shows the last fiscal year was better than expected. The success isn’t expected to make much of a dent in Illinois’ nearly $100 billion dollar pension liability, however, which lawmakers thus far have failed to tackle.   

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Pensions
8:34 am
Tue August 20, 2013

Few Details On Pension Progress

Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook)
Credit ILGA.gov

A panel of ten Illinois lawmakers has been working this summer to find a solution to Illinois' pension problem.  With an unfunded liability of about 100-billion dollars, payments to the public pension systems are taking up a larger chunk of overall state government spending. 

WUIS'  Sean Crawford spoke with Representative Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and one of the leaders in the push to change how retirement systems are funded. 

Recent meetings of the committee have occurred in private, making it difficult to determine progress.  But Nekritz says she's hopeful:

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Ranked 50th
7:24 am
Tue August 20, 2013

Illinois' Education Funding Under Review

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois ranks 50th among the states in the share of education funding that comes from state government. The formula used to distribute that money dates back to the '90s.

On Monday afternoon, a group of state senators began working on an update.

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Statehouse
5:51 pm
Mon August 19, 2013

Illinois Speed Limit Going To 70 MPH

Credit flickr/theeggplant

Illinois' top speed limit will go up on many highways beginning in January.  Governor Pat Quinn has signed a new law increasing the speed limit from 65 to 70 m.p.h.                
Quinn bucked the advice of his Department of Transportation, which opposed the legislation.
IDOT says a higher speed limit will raise average speeds leading to more crashes and fatalities.
But the measure's sponsor, Rep. Jerry Costello (D_Smithton) says more accidents happen because of vehicles traveling at different speeds ... not because of higher speeds.

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Election 2014
11:09 am
Mon August 19, 2013

Ducky Democrats Dog Congressman Davis

Nafia Khan (in duck suit) and DCCC organizer Lauren North were on the Illinois State Fairgrounds for Republican Day. They accuse Congressman Rodney Davis of "ducking" constituents, something his spokesman dismisses as "political funny season."
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Political campaigns are gearing up for next year's elections. So, too, are political pranksters.

Congressman Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, has lately found himself being shadowed by a giant duck.

Technically it's a woman in a duck suit: "Uh, yes, it is very warm in the duck costume."

This is Nafia Khan. She and a handful of other activists are on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, holding signs that accuse Congressman Davis of "ducking" constituents. They say he's not holding any town hall meetings.

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New Law
5:44 am
Mon August 19, 2013

Statewide Fine For Littering, Tossing Cigarettes

Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton)
Credit ILGA.gov

Tossing trash anywhere besides a garbage will soon cost you no matter where you are in Illinois.  A new law imposes a statewide fine for littering.

State Senator Bill Haine hates litter, saying "it's irresponsible, it pollutes beautiful environments, God's creation, it creates ugliness."

He hates it so much, he says he goes around his neighborhood in Alton, picking it up himself.

"We don't have a dog anymore, but I use a Pooper Scooper, which is a remarkably efficient way to pick up litter," he says.

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Statehouse
4:44 pm
Fri August 16, 2013

New Law To Ban Hand Held Phone Use While Driving

Using a hand-held cell phone while driving in Illinois will be illegal on Jan. 1.  
Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Friday aimed at reducing distracted driving. It requires motorists to use speaker phones or headsets that allow for one-digit or audio dialing.  
Illinois joins 11 other states and Washington, D.C. in banning hand-held phone use on the road.  
Texting while driving is already illegal in Illinois.  
Sen. John Mulroe  -- a Chicago Democrat and sponsor -- says he wants motorists to ``keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.''  

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Clash or Compromise
6:42 am
Fri August 16, 2013

Republican Voters Face Competing Visions For A GOP Governor

More than a hundred Republicans heard from their party leaders and top candidates at the State Central Committee and County Chairmen’s Association meeting on Thursday in Springfield.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois Republicans are at a crossroads. The party has a historically small number of people in the Illinois Senate, and a small minority in the House, too. But Republicans are also hopeful about 2014, when they have the chance to win back the Illinois governor's office, ending 12 years of Democratic rule.

Party leaders and candidates rallied in Springfield Thursday at the Illinois State Fair, where the men competing for the top of the ticket each said they're uniquely qualified to revive the Illinois Republican Party.

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State Fair Political Days
7:11 pm
Thu August 15, 2013

U.S. Senator Mark Kirk Back On Central Illinois Stage

In his first major appearance in central Illinois since his stroke in January, 2012, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk told a crowd of Republicans at the Illinois State Fair to “never give up.”
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

 A year-and-a-half after his stroke, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk returned to central Illinois for the first time this week.  Members of his party gave him a warm welcome at a Republican rally Thursday at the Illinois State Fair. 

Senator Kirk made his way slowly across the stage, aided by a cane. It has been a long, slow, partial recovery since his stroke last January.

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Statehouse
11:26 am
Thu August 15, 2013

Quinn Appoints Panel To Investigate Metra

Credit commons.wikimedia.org

Gov. Pat Quinn has appointed a 15-member independent panel including former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate fraud and overhaul Chicago-area public transportation.  
The move follows allegations of political hiring at Metra and calls for change at its overseeing board, the Regional Transportation Authority.  
The Chicago Democrat issued an executive order Thursday creating the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force. Quinn previewed the idea last week.  

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State Fair Political Days
5:59 am
Thu August 15, 2013

Democrats' Divide Deeper Than Quinn v. Daley

The Director's lawn on the fairgrounds is usually full on Governor's Day, when Democrats traditionally rally; instead it was largely empty on Gov. Pat Quinn's revised version, which featured multiple bands.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

  Illinois Democrats put on happy faces Wednesday in Springfield for one of the party's biggest annual gatherings.  But even as they brushed off suggestions of turmoil and division within their ranks, a prominent member of the party was being sentenced to prison, another didn't show up and there's a battle for the top of the state Democratic ticket.  

A state fair is a place for tradition: carnival rides, corn dogs, barnyard animals.  And politicians.

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Wed August 14, 2013

Two Years In, 'Budgeting For Results' Still Ramping Up

Members of the Budgeting for Results Commission at a hearing Tuesday in Springfield.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

An Illinois government panel trying to help the state set spending priorities is already at work on next year's budget. But after two years, the group is still waiting for the chance to make its mark on spending.

The idea behind Budgeting for Results is to focus state spending on agencies and programs that meet a list of seven priorities, like education or public safety.

But although the Budgeting for Results Commission has been meeting, taking testimony, and publishing reports for about two years, its work has yet to affect the budget.

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Election 2014
8:43 pm
Tue August 13, 2013

Pension Chairman Raoul Possible Democratic Challenger

Chair of the pension conference committee Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) talks with Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) at a July meeting in Chicago.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

  Governor Pat Quinn already has one primary challenger, but there's talk he may get more. 

A lot of politicians are heading to the capital city this week; it's the State Fair, and a time for annual political meetings and rallies.

Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul was driving down from Chicago Tuesday afternoon, in time for his fundraiser last night at a Springfield bar.

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Higher Education
11:41 am
Tue August 13, 2013

Debate Over University Research Open Access

Illinois' public universities could have to share more of their research, under a new state law. 

Pick a subject. Any subject.  And two things are likely true:

-someone at a university is researching it, and

-the results of that research are getting published, probably in a scholarly journal.

There's the journal of Sewage and Industrial Wastes. Contemporary European History. The African Music Society Newsletter ...  all of which gets the information out to experts in the given field.

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Statehouse
8:48 am
Tue August 13, 2013

New Law Recruits Casinos To Assist With Child Support Collection

Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation that lets casinos and race tracks garnish gambling winnings from parents who owe back child support.
 
The new law that was signed Monday takes effect immediately. It's aimed at chipping away at the state's nearly $3 billion backlog in unpaid child support.
 
The Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers reports the money would be turned over to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. From there, it'd be distributed to parents.
 

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Concealed Carry Law
5:33 am
Mon August 12, 2013

Police Trainers Prepare For Concealed Carry

Credit www.ptb-edi.state.il.us

The arrival of concealed carry in Illinois will mean a big change not only for gun-owning citizens, but police officers as well.

As Brian Mackey reports, the state board that oversees police training is already preparing for the change.

Police in Illinois are already trained on how to approach someone with a gun. Since that person was likely breaking the law, safety and caution were the watchwords. But how does that calculus change when citizens are able to carry legally?

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Statehouse
4:58 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

Whitaker Denies Involvement In Kickback Scheme

Dr. Eric Whitaker
Credit WBEZ

The former head of Illinois' Department of Public Health says he ``was not involved in any way'' with alleged illegal activities of his longtime chief of staff.  
In an indictment released this week, authorities accuse Quinshaunta Golden. They say she accepted $433,000 in kickbacks for steering grant and contract money to various groups around the time she worked for Eric E. Whitaker at the agency.  
Prosecutors have never accused Whitaker of wrongdoing.  

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On A Stick
4:53 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

Gov 'Eating My Way Across The State Fair'

A pair of Lincolns look on as Gov. Pat Quinn opens the 2013 Illinois State Fair.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois State Fair officially got underway Friday morning.

Based on the evidence Friday morning on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, it's never too early for fried mini-doughnuts.

Vendors were selling all manner of-deep fried delights, patrons were crowding parking lots, and dignitaries were cutting a red, white, and blue ribbon to mark the official opening of the 2013 fair.

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Statehouse
1:01 pm
Fri August 9, 2013

State Parks Seeing License Plate Money

Illinois state parks are starting to see money from a $2 surcharge on Illinois license plate renewals.  
The State Journal-Register in Springfield reports (http://bit.ly/1czFIoL) that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is using the money to reduce a $750 million maintenance backlog. Motorists had to start paying the surcharge this year after last year's DNR Sustainability Bill was approved.  

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State Fair
7:29 am
Fri August 9, 2013

Governor's Day To Break Tradition

Gov. Pat Quinn leads his supporters at the 2013 Twilight Parade on Springfield's North side, kicking off the state fair.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

  The state fair got its start Thursday night with the Twilight parade through the north end of the capital city.  It's an annual tradition.  But indications are that another tradition -- a Democratic party rally  -- will not continue this year.  

There were cheerleaders, bands, children scrambling for candy, and of course, a parade of politicians.

The Attorney General, Treasurer, Comptroller, Lieutenant Governor were all there.

First in that line: Governor Pat Quinn and an army of supporters and staffers, wearing his trademark kelly green campaign t-shirts.

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Medical Marijuana
5:52 pm
Wed August 7, 2013

Durbin: Wait, Watch Before National Medical Marijuana Policy

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)

Medical marijuana may be legal in his home state, but the number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate says that shouldn't be a national policy.  

It'll be awhile before patients with certain diseases will actually be able to use pot to ease their symptoms - the Illinois law doesn't take effect until January, and state regulators have to put rules in place.

Even so, clinics  - including one in Chicago  - are already beginning to open.

Of course, it defies federal law.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin says he's not ready for the feds to change course.

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Statehouse
5:42 pm
Wed August 7, 2013

Madigan Talks On Lawmaker Pay Dispute

House Speaker Michael Madigan says he's disappointed a judge has delayed ruling on the legislator salary lawsuit.  
Gov. Pat Quinn used veto powers last month to suspend pay because of inaction on pensions. Then Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton sued, claiming a misuse of power.  
A Cook County judge will hear arguments Sept. 18, meaning lawmakers could miss another paycheck.  
Madigan told reporters Wednesday before a closed-door speech that voting to override Quinn is still a possibility. That's according to Chicago's WLS-TV.  

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Statehouse
7:02 am
Wed August 7, 2013

Audit Finds State Computers Missing

Illinois' prison systems have misplaced $200,000 of computer equipment.  As Amanda Vinicky reports, the state's auditor general says that poses security risks. 

105 laptops are missing from the Illinois Department of Corrections - plus an additional 51 desktops.

According to a new audit,there's a risk confidential information stored on the computers could be exposed.

But D.O.C. spokesman Tom Shaer says that's not likely.

"We don't believe that these computers are laying around somewhere compromising security."

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Statehouse
1:21 pm
Tue August 6, 2013

Same Sex Marriage Ruling Set For September

Credit WBEZ

A Cook County judge won't decide until late September on whether to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the state's same sex marriage ban.
 
Circuit Judge Sophia Hall listened to nearly two hours of arguments on Tuesday. She then said she'll rule on Sept. 27. The lawsuit involves 25 couples who filed for marriage licenses in Cook County and were denied.
 
However, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has refused to defend the state's ban, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. She says it violates the state constitution.
 

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Statehouse
10:31 am
Tue August 6, 2013

Oral Arguments Over Lawmaker Pay Set For Next Month

Gov. Pat Quinn

Gov. Pat Quinn predicts that a lawsuit over his decision to suspend lawmaker pay for failing to act on the state pension crisis will be a ``landmark'' case.  
Quinn attended a court hearing Tuesday involving a lawsuit filed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton force Quinn and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to issue paychecks.  
A Cook County Circuit Court judge set oral arguments for Sept. 18.  

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Statehouse
7:16 am
Tue August 6, 2013

Madigan And Cullerton Want Court Action On Lawmaker Pay

Cook County Circuit Court Buiding
Credit Wikimedia Commons/user: kmaschke

Attorneys for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton will be in Cook County Circuit Court Tuesday to try and force Gov. Pat Quinn and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka to issue legislators' paychecks.

Last month, Quinn cut $13.8 million for legislators' paychecks in the state budget. He'd threatened consequences if lawmakers failed to act on addressing the pension problem. When a bipartisan pension failed to meet a deadline, Quinn cut their salaries.

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