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As Illinois lawmakers grapple with a budget shortfall, a measure to impose a tax on millionaires' income came up short.

Adding a surcharge to income over a million dollars to raise more money for Illinois schools was a concept Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan introduced last year, but there wasn't enough support.

Now, as Illinois faces a $6 billion budget gap, he's brought it back.

"We're simply asking those that have done well in life to help our educational system," Madigan said.

But his effort came up short, by three votes.

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Bobcats, beware. Illinois lawmakers have renewed their call to lift a ban on hunting bobcats.

Former Governor Pat Quinn vetoed a previous attempt in one of his last acts as governor.

Bobcats are off limits to hunters now. Democratic Sen. Linda Holmes of Aurora wants to keep it that way.

"There isn't a need to get rid of this animal, which is a native predator species in the state," Holmes said.

She says the bobcat population is fragile, and unlike hunters' other prey, which carnivorous eaters can turn into a meal, bobcats are solely hunted as trophies.

The Illinois Senate has voted to reduce the penalties for carrying small amounts of marijuana. The legislation would make possession a ticketable offense, rather than one requiring jail time.

The sponsor, Democratic Sen. Michael Noland, says it would save the state money.

"I'm really looking forward to taking the $29 million a year that we're going to save on prosecuting these cases and actually using it for drug treatment for harder drugs," Noland said.

WUIS

By the end of this month, Illinois legislators are slated to be done with their work. That means passing a new budget. Amanda Vinicky checks in with how that's progressing -- including in the eyes of the state's new governor. 

Amanda Vinicky / WUIS / Illinois Issues

Gov. Bruce Rauner has stayed out of the public eye for the past couple of days. But he's making his feelings on the budget known in an op-ed that came out late Wednesday night.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Illinois lawmakers are debating whether the wealthy should take on a bigger tax burden.

Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan first surged the idea before last year's election, when .01-percenter Bruce Rauner was just a candidate.

Now, with Rauner as governor and calling for widespread cuts, Madigan has brought it back. He proposes adding a three-percent surcharge on all income over a million dollars, with the revenue going to schools.

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Victor Bezrukov / Flickr.com/s-t-r-a-n-g-e

The Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday once again heard arguments over the largest judgment in the state's history. For the second time, Philip Morris is fighting a $10-billion award to people who say they were tricked into thinking "light" cigarettes were healthy.

The class-action lawsuit has been before various courts in Illinois for a decade and a half.

The Illinois House chamber uses a ventilation system that circulates air from columns in the chamber to the attic, where the air is filtered and dispersed over the lawmakers’ desks.
Bethany Jaeger / WUIS/Illinois Issues

With just a dozen days until the General Assembly is set to adjourn, there is a crescendo of partisan accusations. Republican and Democratic legislators both continue to publicly say they hope to reach a bipartisan budget solution, even as both sides accuse the other of bargaining in bad faith.

Brian Mackey/WUIS

A federal judge has allowed Gov. Bruce Rauner's lawsuit over union fees paid by non-union workers to proceed -- without the governor.

More than a million people have Illinois drivers' licenses but aren't registered to vote. They would be registered automatically under a measure before the General Assembly.

Democratic Sen. Daniel Biss from Evanston says he thinks it is his responsibility as a public official to make the election process as open as possible.

"I think that we have a challenge in our society right now where participation in democracy feels first of all difficult and second of all, unfortunately sometimes pointless," Biss said.

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
ilga.gov

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."

flickr/dborman

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.''  

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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."

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