Statehouse

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Jury duty could soon be open to people who are not fluent in the English language. The Illinois Senate today approved a pilot program to provide translators for jurors.

Illinois law currently says jurors must be able to "understand the English language." This proposal would allow jurors who speak other languages to have interpreters.

It's the idea of Dan Locallo, a retired Cook County judge.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  As Illinois' medical marijuana pilot program is still getting up and running, lawmakers are already looking to add a new category of patient: children with epilepsy.

At just two months old, Michaela Frederick's tiny body suffered up to 100 seizures a day. A lack of oxygen to her brain at birth is thought to have caused her severe epilepsy.

Traditional FDA-approved drugs have been able to cut that number of seizures in half. But her father, Adam Frederick, says they put Michaela in a vegetative state.

  A group of lawmakers granted themselves subpoena power Tuesday, to further an investigation into an anti-violence program favored by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Brian Mackey looks at whether it's necessary — or just for show.

The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was rushed out in fall 2010, as Quinn was up for election.

WUIS

  Advocates for nursing homes say if Illinois does not keep income tax rates where they are, thousands of seniors could lose access to care. But it's not yet clear whether the General Assembly will make the tax hike permanent.

Lawmakers have a little less than a month to pass a budget for the next fiscal year -- a budget that nursing homes rely on to subsidize their operations.

Advocates say if the state's income tax is allowed to roll back as scheduled at the end of the year, nursing homes are projected to take a 14 percent funding cut.

IGPA

Rick Winkel served in the legislature from 1995 to 2003.  Now he is Director of the Office of Public Leadership at the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs. 

He wrote a recent op-ed that criticizes how budgeting is done.  He said more transparency is needed, including data that is easier for people outside of government to understand.

"When that data is available and provided openly, understandably so it's concise and legible and put in a format that's consistent," he said.  "Opening up the process before decisions are made and afterward."

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

  Even as a lawsuit could nullify them, the state board of elections has begun a tedious — but necessary — task of preparing a pair of proposed constitutional amendments for the November ballot. The two citizen initiatives aim to strip lawmakers of the power to draw their own maps and to limit their terms in office.

A dozen-or-so workers sit at tables at the board of elections building in Springfield.

Sliding, one at a time, more than 105,000 pieces of paper through scanners," said Rupert Borgsmiller, director of the Illinois State Board of Elections.

  Gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is a Republican, but his wife says she is not. As Rauner's campaign continues to criticize Governor Quinn's stance on taxes, Rauner's wife has a stake in the cause.

Just after the March primary election, Illinois was introduced to Diana Rauner, Bruce Rauner's wife. She introduced herself as "a lifelong Democrat."

She's also the CEO of Ounce of Prevention, a Chicago-based non-profit that uses state grant money to help promote early childhood education.

Hannah Meisel

The two men vying for governor disagree on a lot of issues, most notably what to do about Illinois' budget. Still, it's hard to compare the two, because one plan doesn't seem to exist.

It was nearly a month ago, at an event for Sangamon County Republicans that the party's nominee, Bruce Rauner, said "we'll be coming out with a comprehensive plan, that will be recommending about what we should change in our regulations and in our tax code and in our spending structure, in the, in … relatively near future."

So far, though, that hasn't happened.

Listen To State Week - May 2, 2014

May 2, 2014
State Week logo
Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

  The panel discusses several investigations into Governor Pat Quinn's administration and allegations of corruption, also a couple ballot initiatives - one on term limits and another regarding redistricting.

Brian Mackey / WUIS

A court is being asked to prevent any aspect of Illinois' pension overhaul from taking effect, until it's decided whether the law is constitutional. A motion was filed Friday in Sangamon County Court.

WUIS

The Illinois attorney general says the former president of a Peoria-area construction firm involved with Illinois Capitol renovations has pleaded guilty to fraud.
 
 Stephen Roeschley is former president of Morton-based Core Construction
Services of Illinois. Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office says Roeschley pleaded guilty Friday to wire fraud in Sangamon County court.
 
Madigan's office says the company used a minority-owned business to obtain a
contract as part of the $50 million Illinois Capitol restoration project.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  Families of police officers who died on the job were in Springfield Thursday to honor their loved ones.

Three years and fifty three days. That's how long Pam Robtoy says she's lived without her fiancee, U.S. Marshal John Perry. He was shot to death trying to arrest a fugitive in St. Louis, in 2011.

Robtoy says she still doesn't understand why John was killed, but she finds comfort knowing he died serving others.

"I was supposed to be planning a wedding. I wasn't supposed to be planning a funeral service. There had to be some great reason."

Doris Fogel at the Holocaust Memorial Ceremony
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois officials are remembering the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. An annual ceremony took place Thursday in Springfield's Old State Capitol.

Praying: "Y'hey sh'lama raba min sh'ma-ya ..."

The ceremony included the Kaddish — a Jewish prayer of mourning. Gov. Pat Quinn and other officials spoke. Then a survivor shared her story.

Bost and Enyart
Brian Mackey/WUIS

An Illinois House committee on Thursday approved legislation that would allow repairs to a levee in Grand Tower, in southern Illinois. It would have been routine except for the featured witness — sitting U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart.

Amanda Vinicky

  State elections authorities are beginning to go through 37,535 sheets of paper, filled with voters' signatures. An organization trying to change how Illinois draws legislative districts dropped off the monster petition Thursday in Springfield.

The petition made its way from Chicago to Springfield in a custom-made metal box, strapped down in a semi; it took more than a dozen workers and volunteers to carefully unload it.

Brian Mackey / WUIS

  Republicans say they've found another way to fundraise for a future Barack Obama presidential library ... one that doesn't involve state funds. This comes a day after Democrats advanced a plan to use state funds to entice the president to put his library in Chicago.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

  A lawsuit seeking to keep two citizen's initiatives from ever coming before voters has been filed. Although the case makes no mention of how it will affect minority voters' rights, sources say organizers took pains to reach out to ethnic groups.

Two potential constitutional changes are at issue: one limiting how long legislators can be in office, the other stripping them of the power to draw their own districts.

The suit challenging them was filed by Mike Kasper, an attorney closely aligned with House Speaker Mike Madigan; the powerful Democrat is against both plans.

Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Democratic state Rep. Greg Harris, sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill, celebrate after the House approved the measure.
Illinois House Democrats

It was May 31, 2013, and the cause of same-sex marriage rights was gusting through America like a spring squall. Public opinion had recently swung around on the issue so dramatically that it took even its long-time proponents by surprise. The earlier trend of states outlawing gay marriage had completely looped back on itself in the 2012 elections, with an unbroken string of states’ voters — Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington — either approving same-sex unions or declining to outlaw them. Perhaps even more important, the U.S.

  If you hate negative political ads, you may want to turn off your television and spend this summer outside. 

Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner are facing off in a race that is expected to break campaign-spending records in the state. The contest will likely draw national interest and money, and much of the resources on both sides will be spent on television advertising.

Maureen Foertsch McKinney headshot
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS - Illinois Issues

 Illinois is in a funk. It’s clear.

Last month, a Gallup survey found by a wide margin Illinoisans are less trusting of their state government than residents of any other place in the nation. 

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The U.S. Supreme Court last month issued a decision that opens the door for wealthy donors to give more to candidates, parties and political action committees (PACs). The ruling could have broad implications for the future regulation of campaign spending on the state and federal level. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As the Illinois General Assembly girds for what everyone hopes will be the final month of its spring session, the spotlight is on a handful of high-profile issues, topped by crafting a budget for the 2015 Fiscal Year that starts July 1.

Key to budget-making, of course, is whether lawmakers heed Gov. Pat Quinn’s call for keeping in place current income tax rates, now scheduled to roll back on January 1. Allowing the rates to drop dramatically would lead to “extreme and radical cuts” in education and other core state services, the governor warned in his March budget address.

John Cullerton
Illinois Senate

  Illinois'  General Assembly is heading into its final stretch.  They've got a lot to resolve before their scheduled adjournment at the end of this month, including what to do about Illinois' income tax rate.  It's scheduled to drop midway through the next fiscal year, but Democrats,  including Senate President John Cullerton, want to make the current, higher rate permanent.  WUIS Statehouse Bureau Chief Amanda Vinicky spoke with Cullerton about it earlier this week, and about why, despite the financial fights ahead, he's proud of the state. 

Bruce Rauner and Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

  The governor of Illinois, as well as the man who wants to take his job, were both in Springfield Wednesday. What they were doing offers a clear picture of the different directions they want to take the state.

Republican Bruce Rauner was in town to file petitions for his term limits proposal. Then he addressed a meeting of business groups holding an "Employer Action Day."

"Let's make Illinois the most attractive state to do business, rather than one of the most hostile states to do business," he said. "Nothing else more important than that. Number one priority by far."

WUIS/Lee Strubinger

A couple dozen mayors from throughout Illinois came to Springfield Wednesday, calling on legislators to help fix downstate pension systems that they say are unsustainable.

Municipalities are on the hook for paying local police and firefighters’ retirement benefits.

But the pension rates are set by the state.

Mayors say lawmakers have increasingly “sweetened” benefits – without giving their cities any funding to cover the extra cost.

It’s left many pension systems severely underfunded.

Brian Mackey / WUIS

  A legislative committee Wednesday voted to authorize spending $100 million to lure Barack Obama's presidential library to Chicago ... for the second time.

Before he became President, Barack Obama served as an Illinois state senator and a U.S. senator. He worked as a community organizer in Chicago, and taught at the University of Chicago law school.

All reasons he might locate his presidential library and museum in Illinois.

But New York and Hawaii are also in the running.

Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner filed his term limit initiative with election officials today Wednesday. The massive petition drive came with a hefty price tag.

Rauner's term limit group spent eight months collecting more than twice the number of signatures needed to get the question on the November ballot. That means conversations like this one, from primary Election Day, happened nearly 600,000 times:

Brian Mackey/WUIS

Gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is in Springfield today, filing his term limit initiative after months of collecting signatures. But the plan still has to survive an expected court challenge.

Weighing 1,000 lbs, the nearly-70,000 pages of term limit petitions had to be wheeled onto a semi trailer to be driven to the State Board of Elections.

A custom-made box — as tall and wide as a piece of paper but 36 feet long — contained more than twice the number of signatures needed to get the proposal on the November ballot.

flickr/LizMarie_AK

  Members of the General Assembly this spring are grappling with whether to change the way schools are funded in Illinois. With just a month of session left, the plan's sponsor is altering his strategy, in hopes Republican opposition will fade into bipartisan support.

Senator Andy Manar wants schools to receive state money based on the needs of their students ... not the wealth of local property taxpayers. So, the Democrat from Bunker Hill has proposed an overhaul of Illinois' complicated school funding formula.

Amanda Vinicky

  Even as Democrats killed off one proposal to institute term limits in Illinois, another is moving ahead.

First, the one that for all practical purposes is dead: it was a last minute push by Republican legislative leaders to limit the governor and other executive officers to two terms.

Getting rid of well-known incumbents could be a way for Republicans, who've had a hard time winning statewide office in recent years, to make inroads.

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