Statehouse

Lite Gov
7:01 am
Thu May 30, 2013

Election Proposal Leaves Lt. Gov. Race Unchanged

Sheila Simon was tapped to be Gov. Pat Quinn's running mate in 2010 after the primary winner was nudged out of the race amid questions about his past.
Credit Illinois.gov

The Illinois Senate has approved a multi-faceted change to the state's election laws. The legislation is almost as notable for what it does not do, as for what it does.

The proposal would make dozens of changes to state law, including online voter registration. But until Wednesday, the legislation also would have changed how Illinois gets a lieutenant governor.

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Pensions
7:00 am
Thu May 30, 2013

Pension Solution Eludes Top Democrats ... Still

Credit Amanda Vinicky

Even as the legislative session winds down -- its last day is Friday -- there's no agreement on a solution to the state's pension problem.   

It's not like the problem came out of nowhere.  The $100 billion dollars of unfunded liability accumulated over decades.

And legislators have been talking about what to do about it for years.   Especially this session.

The House and Senate each passed legislation to cut Illinois' costs by reducing state employees and teachers' retirement benefits.  But both measures are stalled in the opposite chamber.

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Education Funding
6:30 am
Thu May 30, 2013

On Schools Budget, Republicans Say Not Enough

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.

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FY14 Budget
7:31 am
Wed May 29, 2013

Democrats Advance Kinder Budget

The bulk of a new state budget passed out of the Illinois House Tuesday, and now heads to the Senate. It's far less harsh than lawmakers had been predicting at the start of the legislative session. 

 

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Frosty Free
7:01 am
Wed May 29, 2013

Cell Phone Ban Headed to Governor

A mix of tourists and lobbyists milled about the rotunda of the Illinois Statehouse on Tuesday.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

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.

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Legislative Monitoring
8:18 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

The Tale Of A Startup - One That "Traks" Legislation

TrakBill Founder and President Steve Marciniak
Credit Profile courtesy of LinkedIn

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.   

Like so many endeavors, this one started small.

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Pensions
5:19 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

Rep: Pension Shift Would Cost Schools Nothing

Reps. Darlene Senger (left) and Elaine Nekritz discuss pensions in a Statehouse conference room.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Members of the Illinois House continued pushing for their version of a pension overhaul Tuesday. The latest twist could affect how public school teachers' pensions are funded. Brian Mackey has more.

One of the more contentious issues in the debate over government pensions in Springfield has been who should pay for teachers' retirement benefits.

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Final Countdown
7:50 am
Tue May 28, 2013

With Days To Go, Crunch Time In Springfield

The Illinois House and Senate were in session on Memorial Day 2013.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

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.

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End of session
7:33 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Four Days Left And Pensions, Guns, Gambling Unresolved

A downpour descends on the Illinois Capitol dome on Memorial Day, where legislators convened for the final week of the 2013 spring session.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

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. 

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Affordable Care Act
10:27 pm
Mon May 27, 2013

Crucial Plank Of Obamacare Passes Illinois House

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.

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Session Countdown
8:13 pm
Sun May 26, 2013

A Full Legislative Agenda With Only Five Days Left

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

There are five days left in the Illinois General Assembly's spring session. Legislators have a lot of work ahead of them.  The House adjourns on Memorial Day at noon; the Senate convenes at 4 p.m.

                   

  

                                       

Typically, fighting over the budget carries into the waning hours of a legislative session.

But Democrats - who have enough seats to pass a spending plan without any Republican votes - say they've already reached a deal.

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Gambling
7:22 pm
Sun May 26, 2013

House Re-Authorizes Online Horse Betting

Horse racing at Arlington Park in 2009.
Credit Paul Kehrer via Flickr

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.

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Pensions
8:27 am
Sat May 25, 2013

Is There Justice In Leaving Judges' Pensions Unscathed?

Credit Illinois Supreme Court

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.

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Concealed Carry
5:28 pm
Fri May 24, 2013

Governor Vows To Stop House Gun Bill

Rep. Bradon Phelps, standing at left, listens to Rep. Jerry Costello, right, debating concealed-carry legislation in the Illinois House of Representatives.
Credit Chris Slaby/WUIS

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."

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Psychiatry
7:00 am
Thu May 23, 2013

House Rejects Study With Ties To Scientology

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.

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Fast Lane
6:35 am
Thu May 23, 2013

House Sends 70mph Bill To Governor

Credit Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

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.

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Illinois Supreme Court
6:30 am
Thu May 23, 2013

'Amazon Tax' Under Supreme Court Review

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.

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FY14 Budget
10:17 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

Comptroller Tells Lawmakers To Get Thrifty

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, wearing the designer dress she purchased at Goodwill.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

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.

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Sexual Education
10:05 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

Bill: No More Abstinence Only Sex Ed In Schools

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.

Senator Linda Holmes is a Democrat, from Aurora:

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Pensions
5:45 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

House: Senate Plan Only Knocks 5-Percent Off Pension Debt

Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), left, and Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) say an analysis shows the Senate's pension bill saves about half of what was originally projected.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

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.

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FY14 Budget
6:40 am
Mon May 20, 2013

Legislators' Budget Plans Expected To Cut Deeper Than Quinn's

Rep. Greg Harris (D-13), courtesy ILGA.gov
Credit ILGA.gov

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... "

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Prescription Pot
3:55 pm
Fri May 17, 2013

Illinois Senate Sends Medical Marijuana To Governor

Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, standing at right, debates medical marijuana in the Illinois Senate on Friday, May 17, 2013.
Credit Chris Slaby/WUIS

The Illinois Senate approved legislation Friday that would legalize the medical use of marijuana.

In the end, the vote was not that close — 35 senators voted yes, 21 no.

Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, sponsored the measure. He frequently reminds his colleagues he was once a prosecutor, and says the idea is to help people in pain find relief.

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Pension Cost Shift
5:47 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Universities Agree To Pay Pension Tab

SIU President Glenn Poshard, left, and U of I President Robert Easter, center, testify at a House hearing Thursday on the pension cost shift.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

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.

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Guns
5:44 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Senate Weighing Tight Concealed Carry Proposal

Credit Mark Holloway via Flickr

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.

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Leo Lunch
7:00 am
Thu May 16, 2013

Republicans Demand Vote On Lion-Meat Ban

Credit Flickr.com/thebuffafamily

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.

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Illinois Hires Tax Credit
5:58 pm
Wed May 15, 2013

Fracking Deal Back On Track

Environmentalists who oppose any form of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in Illinois protest at the Capitol in March.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

After several stumbles, an agreement  has been reached on how to regulate "fracking" in Illinois.  A House committee could vote on the package Thursday morning.  

  The oil and natural gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing has been a boon for job creation in places like  North Dakota and Pennsylvania.

State legislators want the same in Illinois.

As do oil and gas drillers looking to make a handsome profit.

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Audit
6:30 am
Wed May 15, 2013

Road Fund Overpaid For Health Insurance

Credit Gary Brown via Flickr (gsbrown99)

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.

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#attack
2:36 pm
Fri May 10, 2013

Illinois House Targets 'Flash Mob' Violence

The Illinois House approved legislation Friday intended to crack down on so-called "flash mobs." It allows a longer prison sentence for anyone who uses social media to organize an attack.

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Pensions
7:00 am
Thu May 9, 2013

Labor's Pension Deal: Best Bet Or Too Good To Be True?

The Illinois Senate is expected to vote Thursday on the latest proposal to fix the state's drastically underfunded pension systems. In what's become a multi-year pension debate, many aspects of the plan have been put forth before. But it has one element that makes it unique.

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