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District 186
11:36 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Interview: Mike Zimmers, Springfield School Board Member

Mike Zimmers worked in district 186 in a variety of roles – administrator, teacher, principal, coach… And now he serves on the school board. His win unseated previous school board president, Susan White. In this interview Zimmers tells us about his priorities for Springfield public schools, the search for a new superintendent, the closure of a middle school, and more:

 

This interview is part of an ongoing series, more interviews with District 186 school board members will follow.

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Sports
11:00 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Play Ball! Sliders Begin 2013 Season

Credit SpringfieldSliders.com

It’s Opening Night for the team that plays its home games at Robin Roberts Stadium on Springfield’s north side.  Sliders’ Director of Community Relations Bill Hill and Field Manager Pete Romero stopped by to talk about what’s in store this season and the future of baseball in Springfield.

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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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District 186
5:02 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

AG Says Springfield School Board Violated Open Meetings Act

 Former superintendent Walter Milton’s separation agreement with District 186 violated open meeting laws, according to an opinion by the state’s Attorney General. The previous school board decided to part ways with Milton during the winter before his contract was up. So, the members approved a severance plan worth over $175,000 and agreed to pay health and dental insurance.

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Disaster Preparedness
12:06 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

Springfield's New FEMA-Funded Emergency Text Alerts

The text alert program is run by a technology company out of Idaho, which has trademarked AlertSense and sells it the communication service to government entities around the country
Credit http://alertsense.com/Home/AlertSense

Residents in the Springfield area can now sign up to have alerts about severe weather and other emergencies sent right to their phone.

The city received a $10,000 grant to set up the new system.  The money comes through the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, which distributes federal funds to city and county governments for public safety programs and disaster preparedness tools.

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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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Harvest Desk
1:36 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

Rural Development In The Farm Bill

Staunton, Ill., Mayor Craig Neuhaus (left) checks out the town’s new water plant with Hank Fey, a public works director.
Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

As Congress fiddles with major farm legislation, there’s a portion of it that gets very little attention. Some say it is a difference-maker for job creation in small rural communities,and provides a boost those towns need. 

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Severe Weather
1:01 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

Downtown Hannibal, MO Cleans Up After Powerful Storm

Brick shops in Hannibal Historic District among those blown apart by high winds
Credit Dominic Genetti

Monday night's severe storms stopped the presses of the local newspaper in Hannibal, Missouri. A widespread power outage prevented the Hannibal Courier-Post from getting a print edition to readers.  Reporters there, including Dominic Genetti, used the internet and social media to provide news updates on damage caused by 90 mile-an-hour winds.   As Genetti told Peter Gray on Illinois Edition Tuesday, two funnel clouds were reportedly spotted just outside of town last night:

Full interview with Genetti on Hannibal, MO storm damage

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Education & Community
11:32 am
Tue May 21, 2013

Foreign Exchange Students Wrap Up School Year In Central IL

Chris Reid (right) with foreign exchange daughter, Kairi Kosaka

  Foreign exchange students who spent this past school year in central Illinois with their host families are bidding them adieu. At a recent dinner 14 exchange students from countries like Spain, Thailand, and Germany shared meals from their native countries as they prepare to return home:

 

Chris Reid is mixing up a crockpot full of bright colored noodles and meatballs, food she helped her foreign exchange daughter from Toyko cook for tonight’s farewell ceremony…

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Business Report
10:45 am
Tue May 21, 2013

WUIS / SJ-R Business Report: May 21, 2013

Tim Landis
Credit SJ-R.com

A major medical expansion, the retail boom continues in Springfield and we update farmers’ planting progress on this week’s business report with Tim Landis, Business Editor of the State Journal-Register:

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Historic Preservation
1:08 pm
Mon May 20, 2013

Preservation Caucus Re-Formed At Statehouse

Credit Flickr

More than 2 million people a year visit Illinois state historic sites.  The locations play a big role in both state and local economies.   But they often lack political muscle.
So a more coordinated effort is underway to bring back the Historic Preservation caucus in the Illinois General Assembly.

Speaking on WUIS’ Illinois Edition, Chris Wills with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency says there is a need:

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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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Bedrock 66
9:49 am
Fri May 17, 2013

JP Harris & The Tough Choices

  JP Harris & the Tough Choices play at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield tonight (5/17) as part of WUIS’ Bedrock 66 Live Concert Series. Harris’s music has been called “real country” and Harris calls his music “Hank Williams with a Motorhead attitude.” The Alabama native and Nashville transplant shares his music and what inspires it in this interview:

 

CLICK HERE to get tickets to tonight’s show.

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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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Health Desk
3:00 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Advocates For Disabled Fight Special Ed Rule Change Proposals

Mary Farnsworth speaking against proposed rule changes at May 6th public hearing in Springfield
Credit Peter Gray

The State of Illinois caps the number of high needs learners who share the attention of a single special education teacher.

For the past decade, there has also been a limit on how many children with disabilities can be placed in what are known as “general education” public school classrooms.

But those rules could soon be repealed.

The mother of a young man with autism has joined advocates for the disabled who say the proposed change has to do more with cost-savings than with properly educating kids.

FARNSWORTH: “My name is George Farnsworth.”

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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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