State News

State news stories and features from Illinois Public Radio.

Illinois, SEC reach settlement

Mar 11, 2013

Illinois has reached a settlement with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, which accused the state of misleading investors about the depth of its pension problems.

The top leaders of the General Assembly are sending strong signals they won't go along with key parts of Governor Pat Quinn's budget.  They're insistent Illinois spend less than the Governor has proposed.

The Illinois Department of Public Health says when it comes to HIV awareness, sexually-active women and young girls are often overlooked.  The Department putting a renewed emphasis on teaching women to protect themselves, and how to get tested.

If Governor Pat Quinn's agreement with AFSCME, Illinois' largest public employee union, goes through, new employees will be treated differently than those already on the payroll. Union members get pay boosts the longer they work for the state. Quinn's Chief of Staff, Jack Lavin, says it will take longer for new hires reach those step increases, and he says they'll start off making less too.  “And new, to achieve the top of that job classification it was previously eight years, now it’ll be 11 years.

The Illinois House continued test votes on measures to address the state's pension problem, and after a series of failures, one finally passed. But as IPR’s Brian Mackey reports, most Republicans are still boycotting the process.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn may have a hard time getting most of his budget through the General Assembly, but he is expected to act Friday on one proposal that doesn't require getting legislators' approval.  

Counties focus on mental illness, gun access

Mar 7, 2013

More Illinois counties are complying with a law intended to keep guns away from people with mental illness. IPR’s Chris Slaby reports: 

 An audit last year found only three county court clerks reported people with "disqualifying mental health conditions" to the Illinois State Police.  Now, that number's up to 27.  Jessica Tramme is chief of the firearm services bureau for the Illinois State Police.She says a change in January means judges MUST order court clerks to notify the State Police when people are found "mental defective" or "intellectually disabled."

Illinois pensions would eat up about a fifth of state spending under the budget Governor Pat Quinn proposed Wednesday. As IPR’s Amanda Vinicky reports, Quinn say it’s the most difficult budget he's ever submitted to the General Assembly.

Governor Pat Quinn's budget speech highlighted his administration's recent contract agreement with AFSCME, the state's largest government-employee union.

Days after Governor Pat Quinn vetoed a measure that would authorize a major expansion of gambling in Illinois, the state Senate is moving forward with new legislation that would expand gambling even further.  

There were few surprises Wednesday in Gov. Pat Quinn's budget address in the Illinois General Assembly. He called it a "difficult" proposal, with steep cuts in spending on education. So we challenged Statehouse reporter Brian Mackey to find seven things that were surprising about the governor's speech.

Congressmen from Iowa and Illinois want to improve health care in rural parts of their states. Wednesday, democrat Bruce Braley from Iowa's First District and republican Aaron Schock from Illinois' 18th district introduced the Rural Health Clinic Fairness Act.  Braley says Medicare currently has an incentive program, with grants up to 44-thousand dollars, to encourage hospitals and other health professionals to transition to electronic medical records. Their bill would make rural health clinics eligible for these grants. 

 In his annual budget address Wednesday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn laid the blame on the General Assembly for forcing him to cut spending on schools and other key state priorities.  Quinn says the cost of pensions is "squeezing" Illinois' finances, to the point that he's calling for a $400 million hit to education.  IPR’s Amanda Vinicky reports:  Governor Pat Quinn unveiled a budget that spends around $35 and a half billion dollars from the state's main checking account.One fifth of that would go toward the states' public pension systems.

Illinois' finances were already bleak when Pat Quinn became governor in 2009.  Despite heavy cuts and an end to the national recession, they remain so.  

The first woman elected to statewide office in Illinois has died. Dawn Clark Netsch was 86. In January, she revealed she had ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Pioneering Illinois politician and former state comptroller Dawn Clark Netsch died Tuesday at age 86.  Many Illinois Constitutional Officers, Congressman Mike Quigley, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Senator Dick Durbin have issued statements about Netsch and her service to the state.  Senator Durbin called her an indomitable force who blazed a path suitable for generations of Illinois women to follow.  IPR’s Brian O’Keefe talked with Illinois political expert Kent Redfield about Netsch’s life and contributions to state government:

State AFSCME deal carries effects

Mar 4, 2013

   A tentative agreement between Governor Pat Quinn and the state's largest public-employee union, AFSCME, means retired workers finally know how much they should budget for health care.  And it means the state will finally get the savings it had already been counting on. State and university employees who retired after long government careers have not had to pay any health care premiums. A new state law requires them to contribute. But how much they pay was subject to contract negotiations. And AFSCME and the Quinn administration's negotiations dragged on for 15 months.

Cuts expected for IL Ag Department

Mar 1, 2013

  The director of Illinois' Department of Agriculture says the agency will have to "get creative" if its budget continues to get cut.   IPR’s Chris Slaby reports. In the last five years, the Illinois Department of Agriculture has seen its state funding cut by nearly half.  Ag Director Bob Flider says he's expecting more cuts in the next budget.  So he's looking for alternative revenue sources. “Other states have been able to, through foundations, bring in some dollars.  We're going to be looking at some of those possibilities as well.”  But he says finding private donors will take time.

Quinn to give budget address this week

Mar 1, 2013

  Illinois Governor Pat Quinn is scheduled to present his budget address in Springfield later this week. “Obviously our pension reform will be part of the address, the need for getting that done right and getting it done now,” Quinn says.   Illinois is reported to have the worst-funded pension system in the country - and has about $97 billion in unfunded obligations. Quinn has said the pensions are unsustainable.

  The Obama administration is urging the U.S. Supreme court to take a legal stance that could affect Illinois’ same-sex marriage fight.

IL House votes to ban cell phones while driving

Mar 1, 2013

  The Illinois House Friday once again voted to ban the use of cell phones while driving.  The legislation would prohibit holding a cell phone up to your ear while driving. But it would still be legal to use a speakerphone or headset, and to make calls to emergency personnel. "There are elements of Big Brother in this bill. There's no way that you can get around that." Rep. David Harris is a Republican from Arlington Heights.

Quinn, AFSCME reach tentative deal

Feb 28, 2013

  After 15 months of negotiating, Illinois' largest government-employee union has reached a tentative contract deal with the administration of Governor Pat Quinn.  AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall says the specifics will be kept private for now: "It's a three-year agreement. The details are going to be reviewed by our entire rank-and-file membership. ... The ratification process will get started the week of this coming Monday, March 4." Published reports indicate union members would get pay raises -- even though Quinn declined to pay out some raises from the last contract.

Some relief on Mississippi River water levels

Feb 27, 2013

  Recent heavy rains and snow falls have the region’s shippers breathing a sigh of relief.   It was feared that low water levels on the Mississippi River would shut down shipping last month, but shippers say they're now back to handling full loads.  Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Peterson says despite the good news, extended drought conditions mean river levels could drop again.  “We’re still in a drought, we’re going to expect possibly low river levels if we don’t snowpack and precipitation over the spring and summer.

Layoffs at multiple unemployment offices begin Friday

Feb 27, 2013

Layoffs at several state unemployment offices will begin Friday.  And the move has nothing to do with the federal sequestration.  Ironically, it's brought on by a better economy.   Illinois Department of Employment Security Director Jay Rowell says his agency runs the opposite of the economic cycle: "So when companies start to lay off workers at the start of an economic recession, we're busier.  We then receive more money from the federal government. We're entirely federally funded.

  Former state lawmaker Robin Kelly is the last Democrat standing in the race for Jesse Jackson Junior’s old congressional seat.

House panel approves same-sex marriage measure

Feb 26, 2013

Same-sex marriage moved one step closer to becoming the law of Illinois Tuesday.  A House panel voted to advance the measure. Now it has to get through the full House, where backers acknowledge they're still trying to round up votes.Although Democrats have a large majority, not all of them are expected to support it.  Representative Luis Arroyo of Chicago voted "yes" in committee.

The Illinois House begins debate on concealed carry

Feb 26, 2013

A raucous debate over guns got underway Tuesday in the Illinois House of Representatives. At issue are the restrictions that will be in place as lawmakers comply with a federal court order demanding the state allow people to carry guns in public. Lawmakers are fighting over how loose or restrictive a concealed carry law should be.

The Democratic leadership in the Illinois House has engineered an unusually open debate, so far 27 amendments have been proposed from both sides of the issue.

85 billion dollars in across-the-board budget cuts set to begin this Friday would have an immediate impact at Scott Air Force Base in the Metro East. About 13,000 work at the military base and its one of the largest employers in the St. Louis region.

Illinois House Republicans want to cut the corporate income tax and reduce the cost to start a business. It’s 750-dollars now to become a limited liability corporation, or LLC, in Illinois.

Colleagues and friends are remembering the late lawyer and judge Mary Ann McMorrow. She became a lawyer in an era when women were told they were taking jobs away from men, and rose to become the first woman to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court. McMorrow died over the weekend at the age of 83. Illinois Public Radio’s Brian Mackey has more on a career path that, when it began, would have been unthinkable.