Hannah Meisel

2014 Public Affairs Reporting Program Graduate Intern - Statehouse

Hannah covered state government and politics for WUIS and Illinois Public Radio while working toward a master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.

She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was managing editor for online at The Daily Illini. Hannah has also worked for NPR in Washington, D.C. 

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  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.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  Authorities say they're investigating a pipe bomb that was found and destroyed Monday night in downtown Springfield. The Illinois Secretary of State Bomb Squad neutralized the bomb after it was found on the sidewalk outside of Brewhaus pub, on Sixth and Washington Streets.

Once local police were on the scene, the bomb squad responded by identifying the object, then disabling it in a water cannon.

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  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.


  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.


  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.


  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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  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.

Sen. Dick Durbin
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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  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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  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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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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  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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  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.

The Capitol
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  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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  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.


  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.

  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.

Brian Mackey/WUIS

  The Illinois Teachers' Retirement System says it expects a lower return on its pension investments in the next year. That means the state will have to cover more of the cost of teacher pensions.

TRS says it's still a good assumed rate of investment return at 7.5 percent. That falls in line with similar pension systems nationwide. But it's not as profitable as 8-percent, which TRS had been using for the previous few years.

Dave Urbanek is with TRS. He says the unpredictable nature of the international economy spurred the decision to lower the rate.

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  Negotiations between residents of the 10th Street Corridor and the Illinois Department of Transportation , now that there is a go-between for the high speed rail project. A new ombudsman says he will be independent of either side.

Retired Judge Theodis Lewis will mediate discussions and disputes as the city and state get going on construction of the 10th Street Rail Corridor. Lewis' position was announced in downtown Springfield, on the site of the first phase of construction, at 10th and Carpenter. An underpass is slated to begin in late summer.

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  Sixteen police officers from across Illinois were awarded the state's Medal of Honor Friday in Springfield. One officer had previously been honored as state trooper of the year.

In April 2013, State Trooper Brad Williams responded to a five-victim homicide in the tiny village of Manchester, in Western Illinois. Traveling by motorcycle, he chased the suspect for miles, joined by dozens of other officers along the way.

In the end, the suspect stopped his car and shot at police. Williams pulled his weapon and fatally shot the man.

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  Since the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state's eavesdropping law in March, it's been legal to record audio of someone without asking permission. But legislators are working on a replacement.

The Supreme Court found the old law overly broad. It was a crime even to record in public, where people shouldn't really have an expectation of privacy. Because of that, Illinois' law was considered one of the strictest in the nation.

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  Babies born in Illinois are already tested for dozens of disorders. Now the state public health department is adding more to that list.

Newborns will be tested for SCID, a rare genetic disorder that makes babies especially susceptible to bacterial and viral infections.

Every baby born in the state of Illinois gets a tiny pinprick on the heel of their foot. The blood drawn is then sent to an Illinois Department of Public Health lab, where it's tested for dozens of genetic disorders.

  Smoking could be banned at all of Illinois' public colleges under legislation passed by the General Assembly. Though several campuses have already gone smoke-free, this measure would make it illegal to smoke anywhere at the state's 12 public universities, plus its community colleges.

Though the final vote mostly fell upon party lines — Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed — some lawmakers crossed ideological boundaries.

Rep. Donald Moffitt (R-Gilson) says the mandate is about the health of young college students.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  In Illinois, 25,000 men and women are released from state prisons each year. Ideally, that means 25,000 people entering the job market. But Illinois already has higher-than-average unemployment, and a criminal record can make it even harder to find work. That's why the Illinois Department of Corrections is trying to lend a hand to ex-offenders through a series of specialized events.

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It's been 70 years since allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy in one of the turning points of World War Two. A memorial service in Springfield Friday told stories of the young men on the front lines.

The young men of 1944 are old men now. But they still remember.

Springfield resident Jim Hofstetter was 18 on D-Day, the day he enlisted. He knew it was the height of the war, but he also knew he had a job to do for his country.


  Illinois lawmakers are looking to keep schools available as polling places on election day. It comes as some election authorities move to what critics say are less accessible locations.

Brian Mackey / WUIS

  The budget passed by the Illinois General Assembly does not rely on extending the 2011 income tax hike, as originally planned by Democratic leadership. Instead, it's based on state government borrowing from itself.

Instead of making the five percent income tax rate permanent or chopping away at government programs, lawmakers opted to fill a massive hole in state revenues by doing something called "interfund borrowing."

Brian Mackey / WUIS

  The budget being expected to be pushed through the General Assembly Friday does not count on extending the 2011 income tax hike. But Republicans say they can "see through" the Democrats' plan to revisit the income tax after the November election.

After Democratic leadership gave up on attempting to keep Illinois income tax at five percent, the House pushed through what Democrats call a "middle of the road" budget. It taps into other revenue sources and relies on delaying payments to vendors in order to keep spending relatively flat.

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  Lawmakers are considering proposals to stop so-called "patent trolls." They say people who fraudulently collect fines under the guise of protecting intellectual property are hurting small businesses.

"Patent trolls" and their lesser-known cousins, "copyright trolls," basically search for opportunities to make money by claiming someone has used a protected idea without permission.

Rep. Ann Williams (D-Chicago) says many businesses would rather pay the "fine" a patent troll asks for, rather than fight back in court alone.

John Cullerton
Illinois Senate

  Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) says he's come to an agreement on state spending with the speaker of the Illinois House. But Cullerton is leaving the door open for an income tax hike after the November election.