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Two Mississippi River bridges are closed due to flooding, and with more storms in the forecast, there is growing concern that conditions could worsen in parts of Missouri and Illinois.  

The Champ Clark Bridge at Louisiana, Missouri, closed yesterday. The next nearest bridge is in Hannibal, Missouri, 35 miles to the north.  
The Quincy Memorial Bridge in Quincy, Illinois, shut down this morning. The impact there isn't as severe because Quincy has two bridges, and the other is not threatened.

flickr/Daniel Borman

Illinois Democrats are outpacing their Republican counterparts in fundraising so far in the 2014 election cycle.  

Crain's Chicago Business reports that Democrats have almost twice as much cash on hand as Illinois Republicans with $26.9 million. Democrats control the governor's mansion and the state Legislature. Crain's examined the finances of candidates for statewide office, state party organizations and county organizations.  
 Republican businessman Bruce Rauner trails Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn by about $1.5 million in cash on hand in the Illinois governor's race.

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Unions representing government workers are expanding while organized labor has been shedding private sector members over the past
half-century.
 
A majority of union members today now have ties to a government entity _ at the federal, state or local levels.
 
Roughly 1-in-3 public sector workers is a union member, compared with about 1-in-15 for the private sector workforce last year. That's according to the
Bureau of Labor Statistics.
 

  Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon of Illinois has died.

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Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that state employee pension benefits are protected under the state constitution, countering lawmaker's efforts to overhaul the state's underfunded pension system.

Firefighters have burned down the home where five members of a central Illinois family were beaten to death in 2009.  

Ten members of the Beason Fire Department on Thursday set the small, white, one-story house where Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children were killed ablaze. Beason is about 30 miles south of Bloomington.  

Beason fire Chief Jim Hubrich told The Pantagraph in Bloomington that the Gee family asked him for help demolishing the house. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency signed off on the plan.  

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Gov. Pat Quinn has ordered a moratorium on political hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation and is requiring executive-level staff in every state agency to undergo training about proper hiring practices.  

The Chicago Democrat's actions come amid questions about whether state jobs were improperly filled based on clout rather than qualifications.  

The Associated Press obtained copies of memos sent Thursday by Quinn's attorney to IDOT leadership and the heads of all agencies, boards and commissions.  

Meat Prices Higher This Independence Day

Jul 4, 2014
flickr/Clemensv.Vogelsang

According to the USDA, beef prices have increased more than 10 percent and pork prices are up more than 12 percent over last summer. University of Missouri livestock economist Scott Brown says a combination of high feed prices, drought and a hog virus devastating the pork supply are to blame.

“I will say that we are at unprecedented levels in terms of where we are on consumer prices. We have been seeing growth over the last four or five years generally,” Brown said.

And soon, Brown predicts, you’ll see higher prices at restaurants as well.

moonstarsandpaper.blogspot.com

Summertime means Farmer's Markets.  Springfield has several, but a relatively new one has popped up on Springfield's east side.  Lee Strubinger sat down with Wendy White-Mitter and Mary Rogers from St. John's Hospital, which sponsors the market.  One of the challenges of the East Side Farmer's Market, they say, is that goes underutilized...

Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court says free health care is a protected retirement benefit for certain government employees. It was cause for celebration among those who’ve opposed Illinois' attempts to save money by cutting retirement benefits. But Illinois' pension battles are far from over.

Many state retirees used to get premium-free health insurance. When the law was changed to make them pay, a group of them sued.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  Illinois' state fire marshal is warning people to steer clear of personally handling fireworks this Independence Day. He says setting off fireworks without a permit could be grounds for arrest.

While buying fireworks is illegal in Illinois, many residents cross state lines to obtain them from Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri. Illinois State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis says that causes major problems, especially around the Fourth of July.

Unions were upset with Governor Pat Quinn for his role in Illinois' pension overhaul.  But that didn't stop the state's largest teachers' union from endorsing him.  

The Illinois Education Association hasn't even had a year to get over the legislative equivalent of a knife-in-the-back.

Though the IEA endorsed Quinn in the 2010 governor's race, he both advocated for, and signed, the law that reduces public school teachers' pensions.

flickr/Robert.S. Donovan

Illinois children are required to attend school at a younger age and young adults seeking driver's licenses must complete training under several new laws effective this week.  

Children must enter kindergarten by the time they are 6 years old under one new law. The previous requirement was 7 years old. State officials say that might mean higher costs for some schools.  

Another new law requires students to learn CPR and how to operate machines used for emergency heart problems.  

Magazine Spotlights Challenges Facing Young Girls

Jul 2, 2014
MightyStrongGirls.blogspot.com

Mighty Strong Girls is a magazine to help navigate girls of all ages through various obstacles they may face in "girl world".

Amy Denney, founder and editor, had no idea that her religious faith would lead her to start a magazine for preteen to teenage girls. Mighty Strong Girls is a quarterly magazine that coordinates with the seasons of the year. The magazine also has a website, where there is a blog to express on almost any topic the girls want to discuss.

WBEZ

Former Gov. George Ryan has finished a year of supervision following his release from home confinement last summer after a prison sentence for corruption convictions.

Ryan was released from prison in January 2013 and was confined to his home until last July. At the time his lawyer and friend former Gov. Jim Thompson said that Ryan was subject to another year of supervision and some travel restrictions. That ends this week.

IWU.EDU

A former U.S. attorney and legal counsel to former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar has been named acting legislative inspector general.
 
The Legislative Ethics Commission announced in a statement received Tuesday
that J. William Roberts of Springfield took over in an acting capacity on
Tuesday.
 
In addition to his tenure as counsel to Edgar and U.S. attorney for the central
district of Illinois, he also was Sangamon County State's Attorney.
 
Roberts takes over for Tom Homer, a former Democratic lawmaker and appellate

The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Illinois' economy was slow to feel the effects of the Great Recession, and has been slow to recover from it. The state's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is submitting a five-year plan to the General Assembly, with suggestions for business growth ... and more state spending.

DCEO's blueprint includes measures that stalled in the legislature this spring, including raising the minimum wage to $10-dollars an hour, doubling a tax credit for the poor and investing in major infrastructure.

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Not long ago, it seemed every time a different type of crime started making the news, members of the Illinois General Assembly would rush to increase the penalty for that offense. But today — with prisons stuffed beyond capacity and state finances ailing — lawmakers have begun taking a more deliberate approach. Brian Mackey reports on a criminal sentencing culture change in the Illinois General Assembly.

Wikimedia Commons

  Illinois' two state fairs did not comply with the law last year, according to a recent state audit -- and budget realities mean that'll happen again this summer.

The audit found that both the fairs in Springfield and DuQuoin overcharged entrance fees for horses.

But the Department of Agriculture says it's a consequence of the state contributing 200-thousand dollars $200,000 less toward the purse.

The audit also found that the DuQuoin fair only held three out of the five prescribed days of horse racing.

flickr/LizMarie_AK

  Children in military families should have an easier time changing schools when their parents transfer in and of out of Illinois, according to a law Governor Pat Quinn signed over the weekend.

Last summer, Tom White retired from the U.S. Army and accepted a post teaching military law at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago. But instead of moving his family near his work in Illinois, White opted to live in Valparaiso, Indiana, and commute at least an hour each day.

Gov. Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

  It's the last day of the fiscal year for the State of Illinois, which means the pressure is on for Gov. Pat Quinn to sign a new budget into law.

There's nothing on the governor's public schedule for today, but that doesn't mean he won't be busy making official the spending plan passed by his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly.

It makes sense that Quinn wouldn't want to hold a big ceremony drawing attention to it. He had wanted lawmakers to extend Illinois' 5-percent income tax rate, beyond its scheduled rollback halfway through the new fiscal year.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

An effort to change how legislative districts are drawn has suspended its efforts. It follows a judge Friday ruling that the proposal is unconstitutional.

"Yes! For Independent Maps," as the redistricting coalition calls itself, is not done for good.

Spokesman Jim Bray says the group will stay together in hopes of maybe trying again in the future. But he says it's done this year's efforts.

Courtesy of Quinn For Illinois

Governor Pat Quinn and his Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner, disagree about plenty -- everything from gun rights and restrictions, to what Illinois' income tax should be. But with Friday's ruling by a Cook County judge knocking a term limits initiative off the ballot, the candidates have something in common.

Though there has been a lot of turnover in the General Assembly in recent years, some politicians have been serving in Springfield for decades.

Chief among them House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has been a state representative since 1971.

State Week logo
Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

Topics this week include gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner's latest statements on how to balance the state budget and the latest questions about why his daughter was accepted as a student at an elite Chicago high school.  Also, Governor Pat Quinn facing criticism after a disastrous audit of his Chicago anti-violence program.

flickr/Brian Turner

A Cook County judge has ruled that signature-driven ballot measures calling for legislative term limits and a new political redistricting process can't appear on the November ballot.
 
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva says in a Friday ruling the measures don't meet constitutional requirements to make the ballot.
 
The ruling is a setback for groups advocating the measures, including one led by Republican governor candidate Bruce Rauner.  He's made term limits
a cornerstone of his campaign to unseat Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.
 

BruceRauner.com

The issue of how Republican Bruce Rauner's daughter got into an elite Chicago public high school has resurfaced in the Illinois governor's race.

Rauner has maintained that he didn't use his money or influence to get a daughter into Walter Payton College Prep in 2008. Initially, she was rejected despite having top grades. Rauner has said his family appealed through a principals' discretionary process.  

flickr/Terence S. Jones

One of a number of Illinois towns struggling with increasing pension costs wants to save money by shifting control of its fire department to a private company.  

North Riverside officials pitched the proposal at a hearing before state regulators in Chicago on Thursday. Mayor Hubert Hermanek says the move could save $700,000 annually.  

Illinois Municipal League officials say other cities could try similar solutions when the state begins to enforce increasing pension payments in 2016.  

  It could be December before a judge decides on the legality of Illinois' pension overhaul law for at least another five months. Attorneys met Thursday in Sangamon County Court and agreed on a timeline for the case.

Current and retired state employees, teachers and university workers are suing Gov. Pat Quinn over the pension overhaul passed by the General Assembly late last year.

Though it was to have already begun taking effect, a judge has put it on hold until its legality is sorted out in court.

WUIS/Lee Strubinger

A long awaited children’s museum in Springfield is a step closer to becoming reality.   Construction on a building for the Kidzeum of Health and Science will begin this year.
 

A $1 million dollar grant from the state, along with an additional $675,000 in TIF funds from the city of Springfield, are enough to get the work underway.  The facility will occupy the old Schnepp and Barnes building,  a nearly 70 year old structure on East Adams in the downtown area.   

Gov. Pat Quinn says he has no intentions of testifying before a legislative commission about the scandal-laden anti-violence program he started
in 2010.
 
The Chicago Democrat hasn't been subpoenaed or invited less informally. But seven former officials with his administration have been compelled to appear
before the Legislative Audit Commission next month. They're expected to address problems with management and spending under Quinn's $55 million Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
 

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