Statehouse

Statehouse
5:54 am
Mon August 11, 2014

Former Illinois Lawmaker Dies at 48

Former lawmaker Mike Smith died Saturday at age 48.
Credit ilga.gov

Services are pending for former west-central Illinois state lawmaker Mike Smith.  

Oak-Hines Funeral Home in Smith's hometown of Canton says the 48-year-old Democrat died Saturday morning at his home of a suspected heart attack.  

The (Peoria) Journal Star  reports Smith served 16 years in the state Legislature before losing his 2010 re-election bid.  

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Infrastructure
9:37 pm
Sun August 10, 2014

Civil Engineers Advise Infrastructure Investment In Illinois

Credit Wikimedia Commons

  Infrastructure in Illinois is getting dangerously close to disrepair, according to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers. The state received a "C-" for its maintenance of roads, bridges and waterways.

The group says Illinois' grade is cause for concern, especially given recent infrastructure failures. Those headlines include last weekend's water crisis in Toledo, Ohio and chemical pollutants in West Virginia water earlier this year.

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Involvement in Iraq
5:31 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

Durbin, Kirk Weigh In On Air Strikes In Iraq

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL)

  U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk each say they support limited air strikes over Iraq to try to deter the Islamic State terrorist organization. But Durbin's expressing reservations.

President Barack Obama Thursday night authorized air strikes on the terrorist group which has been gaining territory in Iraq.

While Durbin (D-IL) says he is glad the action involves no boots on the ground, he's still cautious about getting involved in the conflict.

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State Week
1:47 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

Listen to State Week - August 8, 2014

Credit Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, the continuing investigation into patronage hiring at IDOT, questions about Bruce Rauner's companies' tax shelters, and a plea deal agreement involving state Representative LaShawn Ford.

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Patronage at IDOT
12:52 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

Quinn Won't Say Why Administration Contradicted Itself On Patronage

Gov. Pat Quinn takes questions from reporters Friday morning after cutting the ribbon at the 2014 Illinois State Fair.
Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  Governor Pat Quinn won't say why his administration contradicted itself when it came to cleaning up hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation. The administration had previously said the fix was done, but now says it isn't complete.

In facing a lawsuit over political patronage hiring at IDOT, Gov. Quinn characterized it as a non-issue.

His administration said it had already taken care of the problem; that IDOT had reduced the number of jobs in which politics would be taken into consideration.

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Election 2014
9:55 pm
Thu August 7, 2014

Rauner: "Nothing Sinister" About Cayman Investments

Republican candidates for governor Bruce Rauner, a former private equity investor, answers questions from the media at the Illinois State Fair Thursday evening.
Credit John Knowles

Bruce Rauner says there's "nothing sinister" about venture capital firms using the Cayman Islands as a tax shelter, but says he has never used the investment vehicle for his personal benefit. 

A recent report by the Chicago Sun-Times details that a portion of his earnings have connections to the Cayman Islands -- considered a tax haven for the wealthy.

Until he stepped down to run for governor, Rauner was head of a capital investment firm, GTCR, which has several investment pools there.

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Top Democrats Request More Routes
8:46 pm
Wed August 6, 2014

Full Steam Ahead For Amtrak

An Amtrak train stops to drop off and pick up passengers at the Springfield station.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

  Amtrak ridership in Illinois has risen in recent years; it's up almost 85 percent from 2006 through last year. That trend developed after the rail service added routes. The train service could grow more in the future.

In 2006, lines branching out from Chicago that went to Carbondale, Quincy and St. Louis added trips.

Then there's the ongoing construction on tracks, that's supposed to make way for so-called "high speed rail" on line that runs through Bloomington and Springfield, and into Missouri. There's a potential for more expansion going forward.

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Illinois State Fair
7:08 pm
Wed August 6, 2014

Officials Urge Caution At State Fair

An inspector from the Illinois Department of Labor checks a carnival ride on the Illinois State Fairgrounds Wednesday.
Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  With the Illinois State Fair set to begin later this week, officials say they have safety in the forefront of their minds. The event, which attracts nearly 1 million visitors yearly, is set to open Friday morning ... though anyone can get an early preview Thursday evening after the annual opening parade.

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Election 2014
5:57 pm
Tue August 5, 2014

Doesn't Take The Election To Change General Assembly's Makeup

Chris Nybo will be sworn in Wedneday afternoon to the Illinois Senate.
Credit ILGA.gov

Illinois' General Assembly will get a new member Wednesday afternoon. Chris Nybo will take the oath of office, even though the election is still several months away.

Nybo, an Elmhurst attorney, will have to beat out Democrat Suzanne Glowiak of Western Springs to win a full term in the State Senate.

But the Republican will represent the western suburbs for now.

Nybo's replacing Kirk Dillard, who stepped down as a Senator to chair the Chicago area's mass transportation agency, known as the RTA.

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Statehouse
10:39 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

Dillard Resigns To Chair RTA; Says No More Runs For Office In His Future

Longtime Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, who stepped down to chair the RTA.
Credit dillard.senategop.org

 

After nearly two decades as an Illinois Senator, Kirk Dillard has stepped down. The Hinsdale attorney has taken over as chairman of northeastern Illinois' public transit system, known as the RTA.

Even before he became a Senator in 1995, Dillard was a known name in Illinois government; he was Chief of Staff to former Gov. Jim Edgar. Dillard twice tried to win the state's top job for himself, but narrowly missed winning the GOP nomination this year; in 2010 he came within 193 votes.

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Budget FY15
6:32 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

Why Illinois Is Cutting Hours At Some Historic Sites, And Sparing Others

The Old State Capitol in Springfield is a popular tourist destination - it's where Abraham Lincoln gave his "House Divided" speech, but it will only be open to the public four days a week starting next month.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency Monday announced that it's scaling back hours at more than a dozen of its sites.

Lincoln's New Salem in Petersburg, the former statehouse in Vandalia, and Cahokia Mounds in Collinsville are also affected.

Spokesman Chris Wills blames a 20 percent cut in state funding.

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Statehouse
4:03 pm
Mon August 4, 2014

Democratic Advisor Gene Callahan Dead At 80

Gene Callahan
Credit ALPLM

A longtime aide to top Democratic officials in Illinois has died.   Gene Callahan passed away Monday morning at the age of 80 at his Springfield home.   Callahan worked for Alan Dixon, Paul Simon and Sam Shapiro. 

In an interview with the Lincoln Presidential Library's Oral History Program in 2011, Callahan talked about he was most proud of during his time in government:

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Legal
6:48 am
Mon August 4, 2014

Miranda Rights In Schools To Be Revamped

  Summer is a time lawmakers can work on legislation that didn't move anywhere during the General Assembly's spring session. One of those proposals would require schoolchildren be read their Miranda Rights.

It happens in schools across Illinois: one student pushes another in a hallway, or there's a full-fledged fight.

Often, police, based on- or off-campus will come break up the altercation. That means an official police report will be filed.

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Statehouse
5:39 am
Mon August 4, 2014

Report: Rauner Funneled Money Into Caribbean

Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner says money channeled through the Cayman Islands and connected to his business dealings had no impact on his personal tax rate.  

Rauner spoke to reporters Sunday, the day a published report detailed how three of his five holdings in the Caribbean were tied to GTCR, a Chicago-based private equity firm he helped found.  

The Chicago Sun-Times  cited a comparison of investments Rauner listed on a state economic disclosure form with the online corporate registry maintained by the Cayman Islands government.  

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Elexction 2014
11:31 pm
Sat August 2, 2014

Rauner Critical Of Quinn's Choice For Ag Director

Bob Flider
Credit Illinois Dept. of Agriculture

Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner is criticizing Gov. Pat Quinn's agriculture director.
 
Lee Enterprises Newspapers' Springfield bureau reports that Rauner did not mention Bob Flider by name in outlining his agriculture plans. But he said the agency's director must ``have first-hand farming
experience.''
 
Flider was named director of agriculture after he lost a 2010 re-election race
for the Illinois House. He then voted for Quinn's 67 percent income-tax increase
after earlier opposing it.
 

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State Week
2:02 pm
Fri August 1, 2014

Listen to State Week - August 1, 2014

Credit Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, discussion of the so-called "Millionaire's Tax" advisory referendum on the November ballot.  Also, ethics violations at the State Fair.

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Statehouse
6:49 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

At Historic Sites, Budget Cuts Could Lead To Closures

The law office where Abe Lincoln had his practice is among the sites that could have reduced hours because of state budget cuts.
Credit springfield-il-us.org

A budget cut is leading to a reduction in hours at many state historic sites. Officials say without more money, some sites could close completely.

This spring, lawmakers passed what they called a largely flat budget. One of the few areas of government to experience a significant funding cut was the Historic Preservation Agency, which runs dozens of sites, from the U.S. Grant Home in Galena to the Kincaid Mounds in far southern Illinois.

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Ethics
4:45 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

State Fair Manager "Moving Forward" After Ethics Violation

Credit Peter Gray

The manager of the Illinois State Fair insists she did not personally consume more than 500 dollars worth of beer tickets she accepted last year. The violation resulted in a thousand dollar fine from a state ethics panel.

At a press event a week before the opening of the annual fair, Amy Bliefnick promoted the ongoing remodeling and landscaping taking place on the fairgrounds.

But her smiled faded when reporters asked about a recent state ethics investigation ... which said it was illegal to accept the beer tickets from a fair vendor.

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Health
5:51 pm
Wed July 30, 2014

New Law Lets School Staff Administer EpiPen Dosage...Not Just Nurses

Credit flickr/LizMarie_AK

  About 1 in every 13 children has a food allergy, but many of them are unaware ... until they have a reaction. Governor Pat Quinn signed a new law Wednesday that makes it legal for a school official who isn't a nurse to administer drugs to quell an allergic episode.

Schools across Illinois increasingly don't have the funds to employ a full-time nurse. But under a 20-11 law that allowed the use of epinephrine in schools for kids with food allergies, the drug, frequently administered via EpiPen, could only be used by a nurse.

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Election 2014
5:31 pm
Wed July 30, 2014

Two Teachers Unions Back Quinn Despite Pension Strife

  Governor Pat Quinn now has the support of the two statewide teachers unions. The Illinois Federation of Teachers endorsed Quinn Wednesday despite the union's opposition to Quinn's ideas for pension changes.

The IFT is one of the groups suing Quinn for the pension overhaul law passed late last year that would reduce public employee benefits, including those for teachers.

But the union's president, Dan Montgomery, says the election is bigger than the ongoing lawsuit.

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Millionaire's tax
5:27 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

Governor Approves 'Millionaire's Tax' As Advisory Referendum

Credit Wikimedia Commons

  This November, Illinois voters will be asked whether millionaires ought to pay more in taxes. The plan is being sold as a way to raise money for education. But opponents see more political motives.

Governor Pat Quinn signed the measure at a suburban elementary school on Tuesday.

The so-called "millionaire's tax" would rake an additional three percent off personal income greater than a million dollars ... with that money going exclusively to schools.

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Metra
7:34 pm
Mon July 28, 2014

Inspector General Finds Old Metra Practice Could Lead To Fatigued Conductors

Credit commons.wikimedia.org

  Officials at Chicago area rail transit agency Metra are being reprimanded for allowing workers to switch shifts without properly filling out paperwork. Illinois' inspector general says this practice could have led to fatigued conductors operating trains.

The so-called shift "swapping" created confusion at Metra, according to the office of the executive inspector general. In its three-year investigation, it concluded employees who were swapping shifts — usually to allow some to get a Saturday off — wouldn't fill out paperwork indicating they weren't working.

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Illinois State Fair
7:13 pm
Mon July 28, 2014

State Fair Officials Fined For Violating Gift Ban...For Beer Tickets

Illinois State Fair 2007
Credit Flickr/aka_kath

  Two individuals are being fined for violating ethics rules in their capacities of running Illinois' two State Fairs. Both incidents involved free beer tickets.

The state's Executive Inspector General found John Rednour Jr., the former manager of the DuQuoin State Fair, guilty of soliciting free beer tickets from a vendor in 2012. According to a report, Rednour asked for "a roll or two" of beer tickets. The tickets were valued at $4 each, which would total $4,000 to $8,000, but the vendor did not comply.

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Statehouse
9:39 am
Mon July 28, 2014

Clout On The Business Side of Medical Marijuana

Credit flickr/medicalmarijuana-information.com

Illinois has set its regulations for medical marijuana in the state.   While, those who may benefit medically are looking forward to the substance becoming available, those who are interested in making money growing it and selling it are getting there ducks in a row.  Kurt Erickson, Springfield Bureau Chief for Lee Enterprises newspapers has been covering the issue he joined a roundtable discussion with Bill Wheelhouse, Amanda Vinicky & Brian Mackey.

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Budget FY15
4:35 pm
Fri July 25, 2014

State Police Cancels New Trooper Training, Citing Budget

Credit Flickr/connor395

  The Illinois State Police graduated 37 state troopers today Friday, the last class the academy will graduate for a while. State police officials say they can't train more due to the state's budget.

The 37 cadets took their oath in the auditorium of the Illinois State Police Academy in Springfield — in the last graduation ceremony it'll see in a while. This class was the fifth to graduate in a year.

A new group had been scheduled to begin the 27-week training on June 15; instead the session never started.

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Statehouse
3:45 pm
Fri July 25, 2014

Feds' Immigrant Numbers For Illinois May Not Tell Whole Story

Boys in a holding area at a Border Protection center in Nogales, Ariz. Generally, minors are put into deportation proceedings and given a "Notice To Appear" in immigration court, but they have permission to stay in the country while the U.S. decides their fate.
Credit NPR.

Federal officials say 305 unaccompanied children caught at the U.S.-Mexico border were placed with Illinois sponsors this year, but officials say hundreds more could be at shelters.  

The country faces a sharp rise in unaccompanied minors. They're placed at government shelters and then released to sponsors as they go through deportation proceedings. Often, sponsors are family members.  
The Chicago-based Heartland Alliance contracts with the federal government for area shelters and legal services. The group doesn't make shelter locations public for safety reasons.  

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State Week
2:53 pm
Fri July 25, 2014

Listen to State Week - July 25, 2014

Credit Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week's topics include the Illinois Inspector General's investigation into possible political hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation.  Also, an overview of the state's rules and regulations regarding medical marijuana.

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IDOT
6:56 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

Inspector General Discloses Political Hiring Investigation

Attorney Michael Shakman's lawsuit accuses Gov. Pat Quinn's administration of political hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation, which until late June was headed by Anne Schneider. In this photo, taken in April, Schneider is introducing a state roads plan with Quinn by her side.
Credit WUIS

  As Gov. Pat Quinn battles a lawsuit accusing his administration of political hiring, the state watchdog charged with investigating ethics violations is asking to get involved.

Confidentiality restrictions prevent the Inspector General from saying what he is or isn't looking into.

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Hydraulic fracturing
5:18 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

Business, Labor Leaders Urge Quinn Administration To Finish Fracking Rules

Credit wikimedia commons

  Business and labor leaders are urging Illinois' Department of Natural Resources to finish the rules for hydraulic fracturing. The coalition says it's left wondering if the governor's administration might be dragging the process for political reasons.

It's been over 400 days since the General Assembly passed a law to allow hydraulic fracturing in Illinois. Proponents say the technique of drilling for natural gas deep in the ground will lead to job and revenue growth.

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Pensions
6:29 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

Illinois' Credit Prognosis: Negative

Wall Street's view of Illinois' financial health has taken a hit, thanks largely to the state budget that took effect at the start of this month. Pensions also continue to be a drag. 

When Illinois Democrats passed the state's latest budget, many seemed to hold their nose. Credit ratings agencies are more direct: Standard & Poors has revised Illinois' credit outlook to "negative." 

It says the new budget "is not structurally balanced and will contribute to growing."

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