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Statehouse
9:45 am
Tue March 24, 2015

Pension Case Could Change Illinois' Credit Rating

The fate of Illinois' pension system rests in the upcoming Supreme Court decision.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

There's a reason analysts say Illinois has the nation's lowest credit rating. It has the nation's largest unfunded pension liability. A 2013 law that’s facing a challenge before the Illinois Supreme Court is intended to help.

Illinois is facing a budget hole in the billions, thanks to a rollback of the income tax. If the high court tosses out the pension law, there'll be more fiscal pressure.

Analysts like Moody's Ted Hampton say the rating won't likely drop further, even if the justices toss the law because the rating already presumes the law cannot be implemented.

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Statehouse
7:37 am
Tue March 24, 2015

Lawmakers To Discuss House Plan To Fill Budget Hole

Lawmakers are scheduled to consider a new plan introduced by House Speaker Michael Madigan to end weeks of negotiations over plugging a $1.6 billion hole in this year's state budget.

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Where Does Power Rest?
5:45 pm
Mon March 23, 2015

Chicago Vs. Illinois

Chicago City Hall
Credit flickr/Daniel X. O'Neill

In politics, local government, like city wards, can be seen as the “minor leagues.” This is where candidates are scouted and get recruited to run for higher office.

But time and again, state legislators from Chicago do the opposite. They leave behind jobs in the Statehouse to serve on the City Council.

So that begs the question: What’s more important? Making sure potholes are filled, garbage is picked up on time and what the neighborhood watch group is up to?

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Education Desk
5:28 pm
Mon March 23, 2015

Brady Says Privatizing Higher Ed Might Be The Solution In Illinois

Credit flickr/John Walker

Wisconsin and Virginia have begun conversations about privatizing flagship public universities. Now, Illinois is about to have the discussion. Bloomington Republican State Senator Bill Brady has introduced a bill to privatize Illinois' public universities over six years.

Brady notes that the state also supports needy students at private institutions and it's possible the state would increase that kind of aid. Brady says operating costs on campuses might fall if state procurement rules and other mandates were to be lifted.

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The Scene
4:56 pm
Mon March 23, 2015

Black Sheep Founder Hands Over Reins To DIY Music Venue

Kevin Bradford, founder of Black Sheep Cafe

Kevin Bradford could justifiably be called the godfather of Springfield's underground punk music scene. He's only 32, but he's managed to help create and feed a culture of do-it-yourself musicians and their fans in a way that is truly incomparable in the city. Bradford recently announced he'll be stepping down as the owner/operator of Black Sheep Cafe (1320 S 11th St.) The good news is, he's not going far.

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Code Switch
11:51 am
Mon March 23, 2015

Expert Hones In On Illinois Sex Trafficking

Jody Raphael

Sex traffic in the US isn't exclusive to people forced to come here against their will. Illinois residents and natives have also become part of the black-market industry. So says Jody Raphael, a DePaul University law professor and researcher. She'll speak Tuesday night at 7pm at UIS (info HERE). She recently spoke with us about her work:

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Regional
11:38 am
Mon March 23, 2015

Home Sales Up In Sangamon County

Credit Flickr/Images_of_money

The Springfield area is mirroring national statistics on home sales.     

The latest monthly report from the Illinois Association of Realtors shows February home sales in Sangamon county totaled 153. That is an increase of 4.1% over the same time last year.  Those numbers fall in line with national statistics showing an increase of 4.7% in existing homes.

Illinois's numbers overall weren't as good. Sales were by 1.7% statewide.

In Sangamon County, the median home price was nearly $2,000 lower then a year ago. The median price in Sangamon County was $116,900.

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Statehouse
5:58 am
Mon March 23, 2015

Older Children May Lose Day Care Funding

Credit Tennessee Department of Human Services

Gaps in the current year's budget mean that the state has stopped paying for its Child Care Assistance Program, and day care providers are worried about more issues in the future.

The program that provides assistance for parents to pay for child care could experience more financial problems if Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's proposals become next year's budget.

Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat, says cutting government assistance to day care has negative consequences in other areas.

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Statehouse
5:00 am
Mon March 23, 2015

Lawmaker: Give Bankruptcy A Chance

Credit flickr.com/andy_kiel

An Illinois Republican has proposed changing state law to let cities and towns declare bankruptcy.

As state government considers cutting back the money it shares with municipalities, Rep. Ron Sandack says it ought to give cities more tools to fix their own finances. Sandack says letting cities threaten bankruptcy would give them more leverage in dealing with unions.

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Regional
2:47 am
Mon March 23, 2015

Local Speaker Series Connects Central Illinois To The World

Credit Wikimedia Commons/Aivazovsky

If you want to learn about something, you need to listen to people that know about it.  And if what's going on in the world piques your interest, a good place to start is the World Affairs Council of Central Illinois.   

Weekly sessions on various topics get underway Tuesday, March 24 as part of the Great Decisions series. 

Frank Kopecky is on the board member and a retired UIS faculty member. He spoke with WUIS' Sean Crawford:

The weekly series takes place at the Laurel Methodist Church at Walnut and South Grand in Springfield.  Here is the full list:

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Health Desk
3:54 pm
Sun March 22, 2015

Concerns Rise Over Children Accessing Detergent Pods

Credit US CPSC

U-S Senator Dick Durbin says a common household item has become too tempting for some kids and it's making them sick.

Durbin said last year he learned about the alarming number of children eating the little pods that some laundry detergent manufacturers produce.  Poison control centers had over 17-thousand reports last year. 

Durbin is pushing for a law to require changes, like redesigning the packets...

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Instagram Edition
5:59 pm
Fri March 20, 2015

Listen to State Week - March 20, 2015

Soon-to-be-former Congressman Aaron Schock, surfing off the coast of Hawaii.
Credit Aaron Schock / Instagram

Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock resigned this week amid questions about his spending of taxpayer money. When the news broke, political reporter Chris Kaergard of the Peoria Journal Star was in the Republican's Downton Abbey-inspired office, waiting for a previously scheduled interview.

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Statehouse
5:44 pm
Fri March 20, 2015

Attorney General Says Rauner's Anti-Union Proposals Illegal

Lisa Madigan at the 2015 inauguration
Credit WUIS/Brian Mackey

Illinois' Democratic attorney general has delivered a blow to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's efforts to weaken labor unions.
 
 Lisa Madigan on Friday issued formal opinions saying two of Rauner's proposals would be illegal.
 
 One would allow local governments to create so-called ``right to work zones''
where union membership would be voluntary. The other would let local governments opt out of prevailing wage agreements, which require workers on government
projects to receive wages that reflect local compensation for similar jobs.
 

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Politics
3:03 pm
Fri March 20, 2015

Report: Cong. Schock Under Federal Investigation

Aaron Schock

A person familiar with the case tells The Associated Press
that the Justice Department is formally investigating whether Rep. Aaron Schock
of Illinois, who has submitted his resignation, committed crimes with his office
expenditures and business dealings.
 
 The government is convening a federal grand jury in Springfield, Illinois, this
source says, and the FBI has started issuing subpoenas to compel people close to
the Republican congressman to testify. The source spoke only on grounds of

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Education Desk
10:36 am
Fri March 20, 2015

Could Relaxing Procurement Rules Save Colleges Money?

Sen. Chapin Rose
Credit senchapinrose.com

  

Under Governor Bruce Rauner’s budget proposal, public universities are facing a 32 percent cut. Legislators took testimony Thursday on how those cuts would affect each school. 

Each school president testified that Rauner’s reductions would force them to cut courses, decrease scholarships, and layoff staff. Illinois State University say it might have to cut 400 jobs. Northern Illinois University could raise freshman tuition by 75 percent. 

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The Scene
9:10 am
Fri March 20, 2015

The Scene: Fiddlers, Rock Shows & Feminist Film

Credit screamingfemales.bandcamp.com

Tune into this week's episode of The Scene with Scott Faingold of the Illinois Times and Rachel Otwell.

Events discussed this week include:

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Harvest Desk
7:25 am
Fri March 20, 2015

Kraft recalls Mac & Cheese

The Kraft Foods Group is recalling nearly 250,000 boxes of its macaroni and cheese dinner.  The recall comes after metal was found in some packages.

The recalled product is limited to the 7.25-oz. size of the Original flavor of boxed dinner with the “Best When Used By” dates of September 18, 2015 through October 11, 2015, with the code “C2” directly below the date on each individual box. The “C2” refers to a specific production line on which the affected product was made.

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Statehouse
8:00 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

Pastor Confirmed To Head State School Board, Despite Gay-Rights Objections

The Rev. James Meeks, seen in an undated file photo, has been confirmed as chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education.

The Illinois Senate on Thursday confirmed the Rev. James Meeks as chairman of the State Board of Education. It comes over the objections of a gay-rights group.

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Statehouse
5:21 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

Criminal Justice Advocates Want Shorter Sentences For Minors

Credit flickr/meeshpants

Xavier McElrath-Bey was arrested when he was 13 years old. The Chicagoan went to prison for first degree murder for a gang-related crime. He left prison on good behavior at the age of 27 with a college degree in hand.

State Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie wants to make sentencing for minors more lenient. House Bill 2471 would prohibit judges from sentencing minors to life without parole. House Bill 2470 would allow minors to have their sentence reviewed after serving 15 years.

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Statehouse
2:18 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

State to divert 'fair share' fees from unions

Credit wuis

Gov. Bruce Rauner's office has instructed state agencies to begin diverting ``fair share'' fees from nonunion members' paychecks away from unions.  

A memo obtained by The Associated Press directs departments to create two sets of books to do it.  

The Republican governor signed an order last month ending the practice of collecting union fees from non-union members. He labeled it a First Amendment violation and asked a federal court to overturn the state requirement.  

Unions collect the fees to defray the cost of work that also benefits nonmembers.  

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The Scene
2:06 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

Screaming Females Will Rock In Springfield

Credit blacksheepspringfield.bigcartel.com

Ten years ago, three friends got together in New Jersey and formed an outfit called the Screaming Females. They were brought up in the gritty DIY scene, producing their own albums, doing their own promotion, and playing in houses and basements. These days, they still play in houses and basements, but they travel across the country doing it (and they also play in some more mainstream venues too.)

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Past Due
1:40 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

Tools For Comparing States

 In a recent Illinois Issues article, I looked at the post-recession budget stories of three other populous states: New Jersey, California and Texas. These states have all had ups and downs following the economic collapse in 2008. Some of the details are enviable, like Texas' economic growth and California's ability to balance its budget after grappling with staggering deficits. Other aspects serve as cautionary tales of how not to deal with big budget challenges, like pension funding.

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Illinois Edition
12:45 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

Covering 'Bloody Sunday' Anniversary In Selma

Brian Mackey speaks with Illinois Issues reporter Rhonda Gillespie about her trip to Selma, Alabama, for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

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Arts and Culture
11:28 am
Thu March 19, 2015

"Mostly Mozart" Includes A World Premiere Friday Night

Alistair Willis
Credit AlistairWillis.com/Tabitha Blair Photography

The Illinois Symphony Chamber Orchestra will give you a bit of Mozart and more during performances at the First Presbyterian Church in Springfield Friday night.  The shows begin at 6 and 8 p.m. and feature the Overture to Don Giovanni and Symphony No. 35 "Haffner". 

Music Director Alistair Willis talks about the challenges of conducting classic compositions like those and new works. 

The Chamber Orchestra will perform a world premiere piece by the acclaimed Uzbekistani composer Dimitri Yanov-Yanovsky, who has collaborated with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. 

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Code Switch Illinois
10:53 am
Thu March 19, 2015

Study: Share Of Middle-Class Households Drops

Credit The Corporation for Enterprise Development

A new analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Stateline found that “in all 50 states, the percentage of ‘middle-class’ households — those making between 67 percent and 200 percent of the state’s median income — shrunk between 2000 and 2013.”

In Illinois, according to the assessment, that share slipped from 49.8 percent in 2000 to 45.8 percent in 2013. The median income in this state was $56,210 in 2013, down from an inflation-adjusted $64,201 in 2000.

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Statehouse
12:34 am
Thu March 19, 2015

After Long Silence, House Moving On Minimum Wage

For the first time in years, legislation to raise the minimum wage is advancing in the Illinois House.

Raising the wage has been a hot topic for years. Illinois voters overwhelmingly supported the idea at last November's election. The Senate voted for an increase last month. And even Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner says he can get behind it — if it comes after a long list of pro-business legislation.

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State of the State Blog
12:16 am
Thu March 19, 2015

LaHood, Son of Congressman, To Run 'On My Own Name'

State Sen. Darin LaHood, a Republican, says he'll seek the seat in Congress being vacated by Rep. Aaron Schock.
Credit Illinois General Assembly

The State of the State Blog looks at the effectiveness and culture of Illinois government.

The day after Congressman Aaron Schock announced his surprise resignation, politicians were moving quickly to replace him. State Sen. Darin LaHood, a Republican from Dunlap, says he’s already filed paperwork to open a federal campaign fundraising account.

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Statehouse
6:00 pm
Wed March 18, 2015

Gun Lobbyists Meet With Governor Rauner

Gun owners marched to the Capitol on Wednesday, where they held a rally in support of the right to bear arms.

Gun owners from around Illinois rallied in Springfield in support of their Second Amendment rights. Illinois Gun Owner Lobby Day, or IGOLD, consists of a march to the Capitol and a rally aimed at getting the attention of the governor and legislators.

Valinda Rowe, a gun rights activist and organizer of the event, says this is the first time a governor has met with them since IGOLD started in 2007. They gave Gov. Bruce Rauner informational packets and told him about their concerns.

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Education Desk
5:48 pm
Wed March 18, 2015

State Board Hears Advice On Restructuring School Funding

 

As Illinois struggles with public school funding, state officials received some expert advice today:

You have a rare opportunity; don’t mess it up. 

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Statehouse
5:45 pm
Wed March 18, 2015

Proposals Aim To Make It Harder To Obtain Opiates Illegally

Credit Safer Lock

Nick Gore was 20 years old when he started taking pain pills recreationally. His substance abuse turned into a dependency that lasted seven years and eventually led to heroin use and jail time.

Representative Rob Martwick wants to require locking caps for all opioid pill bottles. The caps would have a combination lock that only the person prescribed the medication would know. Gore says this could have stopped his access to the drugs.

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