Illinois has the worst funded pension system in the nation, and lawmakers have until today to do something about it. The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn by midnight. After that, it requires extra votes to get legislation to the governor's desk. Pensions are not the only thing left. Plenty of other big-ticket policy issues are also unresolved.
Another key component of the Illinois state budget moved through the General Assembly on Wednesday. The Democrats' spending plan prevents what could have been steep cuts for schools, but Republicans say students outside Chicago are getting shortchanged.
Democrats are approving mostly level funding for elementary and high schools in Illinois. That's significant because education spending, like most areas of the state budget, has been cut in recent years. And Gov. Pat Quinn's budget proposal said even deeper cuts would be necessary.
The Illinois House gave final approval on Tuesday to a ban the hand-held use of cell phones behind the wheel. The fate of the idea is now up to Gov. Pat Quinn. The issue had been debated before, but one opponent of the measure had a few new points to make.
Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, decided to recount a long story about a recent stop at a Wendy's. He ordered a Frosty.
More than six thousand bills are before the Illinois General Assembly this spring session. Legislators have until Friday to get through them.
And with some of the biggest policy issues facing the state still outstanding, measures will move, change and die rapidly. Amanda Vinicky spoke with a recent University of Illinois Urbana Champaign graduate has founded a company that aims to make it easier to follow what's happening at the capitol.
While many people across Illinois had Monday off from work for Memorial Day, the members of the Illinois General Assembly were meeting in Springfield. Just four days remain until lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn for the summer. The last week of session is a time for individual legislators to shine — or stumble — as months of hard work on legislation culminates in long-awaited votes. We took a look at some of this week's key players in Springfield.
The legislative countdown continues, as Illinois' General Assembly is set to adjourn Friday. Lawmakers spent their Memorial Day at the capitol, where little apparent progress was made on many of the outstanding issues. The Senate met only briefly yesterday - the bulk of Senators' time was spent in private, partisan meetings.That's where they often make decisions on how to proceed on controversial issues. Like the budget.
In the waning days of its legislative session, Illinois took a major step toward implementing President Barack Obama's signature health care program. That Democrats, who hold solid majorities in the General Assembly, waited until this late in the session is telling.
Internet gambling on horse racing would once again be legal in Illinois under legislation approved Sunday by the Illinois House of Representatives.
Online and telephone horse betting has been illegal in Illinois all year — a law authorizing it expired on Dec. 31. The practice, known as "advanced deposit wagering," was a $122 million business in Illinois last year.
The legislation would also finally redistribute money from casino gambling that was supposed to shore up the struggling horse racing industry, but instead has been languishing in a state account.
Illinois lawmakers remain at odds over how to handle the state's $100 billion of pension debt. But there's a chance that this spring the General Assembly may finally do something about it. After years of no major action, there are not one, but two major packages designed to reign in Illinois' retirement costs. The House and Senate passed competing plans. Both of them seek to save Illinois money by cutting current and retired government workers' benefits. But one important group of government workers are being left out of both deals - judges.
The Illinois House on Friday approved legislation that would let Illinoisans carry concealed firearms. But Gov. Pat Quinn says he'll work to "stop it in its tracks."
The measure is being touted as a compromise by its sponsor, Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg.
"As we all know, after years of debating this issue, it is incredibly difficult, if not darn-near impossible, to come to a middle ground on this issue," Phelps said. "Every legislator on this floor has a different opinion when it comes to concealed-carry policy."
The Illinois House on Wednesday rejected an attempt to take a closer look at the field of psychiatry and its role in shaping Illinois law. The sticking point for some lawmakers was a group backing the proposal.
As the field of psychiatry publishes its first new diagnostic manual in more than a decade, it's been attracting a lot of discussion.
The Illinois House has voted to raise Illinois' top speed limit to 70 miles-per-hour. Currently, cars and trucks are limited to 65 miles-an-hour on most Illinois highways.
Opponents warned that raising the speed limit would result in more accidents. But the bill's sponsor, Democratic Representative Jerry Costello, from Smithton, says more accidents happen because of vehicles traveling at different speeds — not because of higher speeds.
The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in case challenging the state's so-called "Amazon tax." The decision could change the way Illinois websites make money online. Brian Mackey reports.
When you click a product link on a website — like if a blogger links to a book she's reviewing — the blogger can make a deal with the retailer to get a cut of the sale.
Illinois' stack of overdue bills is smaller, thanks to stronger-than expected tax revenues. But as lawmakers begin finalizing a new state budget, one of the state's chief fiscal officers is cautioning lawmakers to get thrifty.
Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's wearing a purple, long-sleeved knit dress. It's by St. John's, a designer label whose dresses retail for about $800. Topinka brags she got it for $7 at Goodwill.
Schools that have sexual education classes would have to go beyond "abstinence-only" under a measure Illinois legislators sent the governor. The plan seeks to ensure students are getting medically accurate and age appropriate information.
The measure does not require schools to offer sex ed courses.
But if they do ... the legislation mandates that middle and high schools include information about birth control.
A state pension overhaul backed by government employee unions may save only half of what advocates had promised. That underscores an ongoing battle between the House and Senate over pensions, with only ten days left in the legislative session.
There's general agreement on this much: that Illinois' public pension systems have $100 billion dollars in unfunded liabilities. That's a fancy word that basically means "debt."
It's a big number that's getting Illinois in trouble with bond houses and eating into the state's budget.
Despite years of cuts to the Illinois state budget ... even more are ahead. Legislators are still deciding where else they can slash spending.
"Human services" is a legislative phrase Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) says covers:
HARRIS: "All the state departments dealing with health care, senior services, children services, so the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Medicaid, human services, mental health, substance abuse, Department of Aging, DCFS, public health and veterans... "
Illinois universities and community colleges have signed on to a deal that would have them pick up the cost of their employees' retirement benefits. It's part of lawmakers' ongoing efforts to reduce how much the state is spending on pensions.
Illinois has cut its spending on universities for years ... and even more reductions are expected next year.
School administrators say it's forced them to hike tuition, and to leave positions unfilled.
An Illinois Senate committee has approved legislation that would pave the way for concealed-carry of firearms in Illinois. But gun-rights advocates say it's too restrictive, and the measure faces an uphill climb.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, was trying to negotiate a compromise with gun-rights supporters. But ultimately he went his own way. His proposal would not allow guns in schools, day cares, casinos, and stadiums.
Just over two weeks remain before the Illinois General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn for the summer, on May 31st. They still have a lot to deal with in that time — like pensions, concealed carry, same-sex marriage, and next year's budget. But an incident Wednesday in the Illinois House shows tempers are already starting to flare.
Less than half of the money in Illinois' Road Fund actually pays for highway construction and maintenance. That's the finding in a new audit (pdf) that also says the Road Fund overpaid for employee health insurance.