Statehouse

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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Affordable Care Act
4:09 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

Durbin Files Legislation Reacting To Hobby Lobby Decision

Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  U.S. Senator Dick Durbin wants companies exempt from offering birth control in their healthcare plans to make that known to potential employees.

It's a response to the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last month, which determined certain business owners don't have to pay for contraceptives that violate their religious beliefs. These so-called "closely held" companies — typically small, family owned businesses — are exempt from the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.

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Election 2014
4:29 pm
Tue July 22, 2014

Republican Attorney General Candidate: Pension Changes Unconstitutional

Republican candidate for attorney general Paul Schimpf
Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  The Republican candidate for Illinois Attorney General is criticizing incumbent Lisa Madigan for defending the state's pension overhaul law, which he thinks is unconstitutional.

A clause in the state's constitution says that once earned, pension benefits shall not be diminished.

The pension law, passed last year, law reduces cost of living benefits paid out to state employees and public school teachers. That, and other changes, haven't actually taken effect yet; a lawsuit challenging the law is ongoing.

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Statehouse
12:12 pm
Tue July 22, 2014

Trucker Asks: Are Police Above The Law?

A screenshot of the video Brian Miner posted of being pulled over in June by an Illinois State Trooper.
Credit Brian Miner, You Tube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-dJgFdfl3I)

It has been just over half a year since Illinois made it illegal to talk on your phone while driving without the use of a hands-free device. There are some exceptions: you can hold your phone if your car is stopped -- say at a railroad crossing for a freight train -- and in park or neutral, or if you pull off onto the shoulder. The law also makes an exemption for law enforcement. A recent YouTube sensation that raises the question: should police get special treatment?

    

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Statehouse
6:53 am
Tue July 22, 2014

Fire Closes State Building Today

Credit wandtv.com

The Illinois Secretary of State's office has closed its Howlett Building in Springfield for the day because of a small fire.

Secretary of State spokesman Dave Druker says the fire happened about 1:15 a.m. Tuesday in a mechanical room at the building, which is part of the Illinois State Capitol complex.  

He says firefighters quickly put out the blaze but the air conditioning in the building isn't working and crews need to work on mechanical issues.  

Druker says the agency hopes to reopen the office building on Wednesday.  

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Guns
12:06 am
Mon July 21, 2014

Attorney General Wants To Send Concealed Carry Cases Out Of Court

Credit flickr

Illinois gun owners who've been denied a concealed carry permit can appeal. But instead of going through the courts, Illinois' Attorney General wants a state panel to decide those cases.

There are about 200 concealed carry denials before Illinois courts, brought by people who say they shouldn't have been deemed dangerous or a threat to public safety by Illinois' Concealed Carry Licensing Review Board.

Until recently, applicants didn't actually know why they were rejected.

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Election 2014
5:26 pm
Fri July 18, 2014

No School For Kids On Election Day

Credit wikimedia

Illinois students could get a day off of school come election day. Schools are often at the heart of a community, metaphorically, if not literally. That's part of the reason they've long been voting sites.

But with shootings at schools across the country, some lawmakers are concerned the practice is dangerous.

Most of the time visitors need to sign in before entering a school; they say allowing anyone in on election day is asking for trouble.

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State Week
3:53 pm
Fri July 18, 2014

Listen to State Week - July 18, 2014

Credit Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner proposed more ways to fix the state's budget woes.  Also, a state legislative commission has pushed back the investigation into Governor pat Quinn's controversial Neighborhood Recovery Initiative until October.

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Statehouse
3:25 pm
Fri July 18, 2014

Prosecutors Say Blagojevich Attorneys Misread Ruling

Prosecutors responding to a new argument in Rod Blagojevich's appeal say the former governor's lawyers have misrepresented a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in another case.  

Blagojevich's lawyers say an April ruling by the high court found that soliciting contributions is corruption only when a politician makes explicit promises to take official action for a donation.  

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Statehouse
5:22 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

Supreme Court Won't Take Up Term Limits

Credit Illinois Supreme Court

  An effort to institute term limits in Illinois has hit a major road block. The state Supreme Court says it will not rush to hear the case.

 The Supreme Court's decision could be the end of Republican Bruce Rauner's term limits initiative.

Limiting how long legislators can be in Illinois' General Assembly has been a staple of his campaign for governor.

That takes a change in the constitution. Rauner's group collected over a half million signatures so that question could be put to voters on the November ballot.

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Election 2014
2:50 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

Rauner Proposes Tax Changes

Bruce Rauner
Credit WUIS

Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner has presented a plan he says will help grow Illinois' economy and create jobs.

The Winnetka businessman spoke today at a family-owned manufacturing company in Schaumburg. 

Rauner wants to eliminate the income tax increase Democrats approved in 2011, phasing the rate back to 3 percent from 5 percent. He also says he would freeze property taxes and impose a sales tax on services such as charter flights, travel agencies and sewer service.  

Rauner says Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has been ``a failure on job creation.''  

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New Law
6:52 am
Thu July 17, 2014

Illinois To Require Bulletproof Vests

Credit flickr.com/appleswitch (Creative Commons)

A new law signed Wednesday is intended to keep police officers safe, by requiring they get protective gear.

A bulletproof vest will become part of an officers' standard equipment issue. Contingent on money, of course.

The new law includes provisions to help ensure there is funding.

It law requires communities and the state apply for a federal grant, that provides matching funds specifically for the purchase of bullet proof vests.

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Neighborhood Recovery Initiative
6:02 pm
Wed July 16, 2014

Election-Year Fight Over What's Next In Probe Of Quinn's NRI

After a day-long meeting Wednesday, a legislative commission will meet again Thursday morning in Chicago. They're set to begin with a call to the U.S. Attorney's office. Democrats and Republicans are at a standstill over what to do next in their probe of Gov. Pat Quinn's controversial anti-violence program.

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Neighborhood Recovery Initiative
12:31 pm
Wed July 16, 2014

Republicans Call "Contempt" As Witnesses Fail To Show At NRI Hearing

A legislative hearing convened to probe a troubled anti-violence program run by Gov. Quinn is underway in Chicago. Federal prosecutors have asked lawmakers to hold off taking testimony, because it may obstruct their investigation. 

It all goes back to a program called the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which debuted in 2010, when Quinn was in the midst of a tight race for governor against Republican Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington. A state audit showed it was rife with mismanagement, and Republicans say that's because Quinn was trying to use it to boost his campaign.

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Neighborhood Recovery Initiative
9:36 am
Wed July 16, 2014

How The NRI Hearing Could Play Out For Quinn's Campaign

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Governor Pat Quinn's troubled anti-violence program will be in the spotlight today (7/16) when a bipartisan legislative commission meets in Chicago.  

It's not yet clear how lawmakers will proceed, given that the federal government wants them to put a hold on their investigation until mid-October, just before the November election, when Quinn will face Republican Bruce Rauner.

Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown says that's what Quinn's campaign wants.

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Statehouse
7:16 am
Wed July 16, 2014

Quinn Signs Law Designed To Add Accountability To Grants

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation overhauling the state's grant oversight and accountability process.  

Quinn's office said Wednesday that he has signed the Grant Accountability and Transparency Act. The governor says it will give Illinois a comprehensive set of uniform rules for grant applications and make those who receive grants more accountable to taxpayers.

The signing comes on the same day as legislative hearings are to begin on a controversial Quinn program.

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Statehouse
6:07 am
Tue July 15, 2014

Applicants Denied Concealed Carry Licenses Will Learn Why Under New Emergency Rules

Credit http://www.adamsguns.com

  A year after Illinois legalized concealed carry, new rules are out to determine the process for deciding who can't carry a gun in public. The Illinois State Police issued the emergency rules Monday 7/14 afternoon.

Not just anyone can carry a gun right off the bat. You have to get a license, which entails passing muster with local law enforcement and the Illinois State Police; they can deny applicants.

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Budget FY15
8:12 pm
Mon July 14, 2014

Bill Backlog Improvement Could Be Temporary

Credit flickr/dborman

  The amount of money Illinois owes to companies and organizations that have provided goods and services for the state is at its lowest level since 2010, but that improvement could be short-lived.

At one point, Illinois had a stack of overdue bills totaling about $10 billion.

It took so long for the state to pay back its vendors that some were forced to close their doors - they couldn't pay their bills.

But that was at the height of the recession, and before Illinois' hike in the state income tax.

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Election 2014
5:11 pm
Mon July 14, 2014

Governor Campaigns Rip Each Other's Records

Paul Vallas
Credit PBS

The candidates for Illinois governor are hammering each other's records on business and caring for the developmentally disabled.
 
Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor Paul Vallas blasted
Republican Bruce Rauner Monday after a published news report said a
long-term care company once tied to Rauner faced lawsuits and disciplinary
action over the mistreatment of residents, fatalities and ``deplorable'' living
conditions.
 
Vallas suggests Rauner profited from substandard care and should be questioned

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Election 2014
7:20 am
Mon July 14, 2014

Republican Bruce Rauner Defends His Personal Tax Bill

Bruce Rauner
Credit WUIS

Bruce Rauner -- the Republican nominee for Illinois governor -- says he followed the letter of the law when filing his taxes.  But he won't say whether it was fair.

Rauner, a businessman, has said his wealth puts him in the top .01%.
Even so, a Chicago Tribune analysis showed that in several recent years, he paid no Social Security or Medicare taxes.
Rauner has released limited parts of his tax returns.

It's believed he took advantage of I-R-S rules to legally cut his tax burden.
Rauner defended that ...

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State Week
2:27 pm
Fri July 11, 2014

Listen to State Week - July 11, 2014

Credit Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

More details are emerging on the Illinois Inspector General's probe into political hiring at Metra.  Also, a call for further investigation into Governor Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.

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Remembering
9:43 am
Fri July 11, 2014

WUIS Archive: Alan Dixon Was Gracious In Defeat

Credit wikipedia

Former U.S. Senator Alan Dixon died Sunday in his southern Illinois home.

The 86-year-old Belleville Democrat spent more than four decades in public office - 30 years in state government before going on to serve in Congress from 1981 to 1993.

But Chicago Democrat Carol Moseley Braun unseated Dixon in 1992.  Braun became the first African American woman to serve in the Senate.

On March 17th, 1992, Dixon congratulated Braun for her win, and bowed out of public office with a certain grace uncharacteristic of politicians who've just suffered defeat at the polls.

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Statehouse
8:21 am
Fri July 11, 2014

Number Of Statehouse Reporters Down More Than One-Third Since 2003

Credit WUIS

As traditional news sources cut back on statehouse reporters, other outlets seek to fill the gaps in coverage.

The Pew Research Journalism Project took a look at statehouse press corps across the country. State populations are generally predictive of the size of their statehouse press corps. At the time of the survey, Illinois had 22 full-time statehouse reporters. Texas had the most at 53. South Dakota had the fewest with two.

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Corrections
11:41 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

Series Part 3: Death In Illinois Prisons

Credit flickr/Brad K.

Illinois taxpayers pay a private company more than a hundred million dollars a year to give health care to prison inmates.

Yet no one in Illinois knows how good, or bad, the care is.

But that will likely change soon.

As part of our series “Of natural causes: Death in Illinois prisons,” WBEZ’s Robert Wildeboer reports.

On July 28, 2012 Elawndoe Shannon put in a request for sick call at the prison where he was housed in Lawrence, Illinois.

Two days later, he died.

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Tourism
4:57 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

Tourism In Illinois Sets New Record

Credit wikimedia commons

  Illinois' tourism numbers set another record in 2013, bringing in over 100 million visitors to the state. State agencies say they aim to grow those numbers more in the face of budget cuts.

For the third year in a row, Illinois broke its own record for visitors to the state. In 2013, travelers spent $34.5 billion dollars in Illinois, according to the state's office of tourism.

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Executive Mansion
12:58 pm
Thu July 10, 2014

Seven Months And Two Storms Later, Executive Mansion Gets Mini-Fix

One of eight leaks in the mansion's roof allowed water to pool above the ceiling in one of the guest bedrooms, causing this water damage in one corner of the room.
Hannah Meisel/WUIS

The governor's executive mansion in Springfield is receiving much-needed repair after rainwater caused damage twice in the last two months. But the repairs are only a stopgap measure; it's all the state can afford right now.

Walk into the executive mansion in Springfield, and nothing looks awry. But climb the stairs to the third floor, where the governor's apartment lies, off-limits to tours and most events, and the damage is apparent in two historical bedrooms.

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Residents Fend For Themselves
10:40 am
Thu July 10, 2014

Tensions Rise With Waters Over Flood Expense

There's an irony to the arch on the entranceway of Clarksville's park, which reads "Touch the Mississippi." Normally, that requires stooping down; now the river laps up a main downtown drag, and comes to you.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

Heavy rains have led to flooding all across the Midwest in recent days: in Iowa, Illinois, and in the small town of Clarksville, Missouri, which sits on the Mississippi River. That river is expected to reach its crest there Wednesday, and residents hope the walls they’ve built to keep out the water will hold. Especially because this time, they had to build those walls themselves.

Ask a Clarksville resident how long they’ve lived there, and the answer is usually given in the context of a flood.

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Corrections
11:12 pm
Wed July 9, 2014

Series Part 2: Prison Deaths In Illinois

Credit flickr/Fiona Dalwood

Between 80 and a hundred people die behind bars in Illinois every year.

The average age of the people who die is 54.

The Department of Corrections says it carefully reviews every death, but information on deaths provided to Chicago public station WBEZ was scattershot and incomplete.

Rob Wildeboer continues our series, “Of natural causes: Death in Illinois prisons.”

Keith Dean has a manila envelope that causes him a lot of grief and regret, but he can’t throw it out.

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Corrections
10:58 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Series: Death In Illinois Prisons

Credit flickr/meesh

Between 80 and a hundred people die each year inside Illinois prisons.

Chicago public station WBEZ has been seeking information about those deaths, but the Department of Corrections under Governor Pat Quinn is taking a “trust us, nothing to see here” attitude.

However, persistent and disturbing complaints from inmates and their families make it hard to just move along.

Robert Wildeboer will bring us some of their stories and the department’s response this week as part of our series “Of natural causes: Death in Illinois prisons.”

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Budget FY15
10:27 am
Wed July 9, 2014

Illinois Sees Growth In Tax Revenue, But It Won't Last Long

Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  2014 is only halfway over, but Illinois' new fiscal year just began last week. The state closed out its year with a billion-dollar growth in tax revenue.

The state took in $32 billion in revenue this past fiscal year, more than $7.6 billion of that in sales tax. That's up almost 4.5 percent from last year.

Jim Muschinske, who analyzes revenues for the state's forecasting commission, says that's not amazing, but it's a healthy increase.

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