Daisy Contreras

Daisy reports on statehouse issues for our Illinois Issues project.  She's currently a Public Affairs Reporting graduate program student at the University of Illinois Springfield.  She graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology with an associates degrees from Truman College.  Daisy is from Chicago where she attended Lane Tech High School.

The bill puts Rauner in a tricky position as he prepares to seek re-election--one where a veto would anger those who favor abortion rights, while signing it could alienate conservatives who are opposed. 

Time is running out on Governor Bruce Rauner to act on a bill that would change the way websites track a user's location and how they store that data. 

As of this month – Illinois is required to have updated signage for emergency situations at rail-road crossings. People can call the number on these standardized blue signs to report track obstructions or other safety issues at specific locations. If a crossing gate is malfunctioning, for example, railroad authorities need to know. 

Signs with this emergency information have been around since the  mid 1970s, says Chip Pew, railroad safety specialist for the Illinois Commerce Commission. But the signs were not standardized, making it difficult for pedestrians and motorists to properly locate them.

The information "might have been on a sticker, wrapped around an appliance...in many cases it was on a large placard, sometimes on a small sign," Pew says.  In response to this lack of uniformity-- not just across Illinois, but across the United States, the Federal Railroad Administration began the Emergency Notification System (ENS) program in 2011, with the expectation that the blue signs would be fully implemented by September 1, 2017. 

To make sure the public is aware of the blue signs and the looming deadline,  Pew and a team of volunteers have been conducting outreach through a program called Operation Lifesaver, that focuses on railroad safety education. 

"People are shocked that [the] information has been there for that long and did not know it, but they find that the blue sign is very visible and that the information it contains is obviously very important," Pew says.

With the added attention to the blue signs, Pew says he hopes people think more about their safety around railroad crossings. 

Operation Lifesaver volunteer, Gordon Bowe, echoes this sentiment. Bowe is a retired Metra conductor who now uses his free time to educate kids, teens and adults about the dangers of rail crossings. During his time as a conductor, Bowe witnessed accidents where motorists or pedestrians did not yield to his oncoming train. He says he would like for people to understand that crossing gates exist for a reason.

"A lot of [people] don't realize that from the first blink of [the crossing] light, the road is closed", explains Bowe, "they think it's 'do I have the capability of getting across before I get hit?' "

He says it only takes 20 seconds for a train to reach that crossing after the lights go off. 

Illinois ranks second in number of track miles and crossings--right behind Texas. It's also in the top five states when it comes to train-vehicle accidents. 

Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield is addressing the issue of African American male underrepresentation in the workforce. The college launched the Open Door Mentorship Program a year ago, which has so far helped 25 male students get a head start in gaining professional experience.

WUIS.org

The Illinois State Fair began yesterday with the usual variety of attractions—AND a few changes.

Governor Bruce Rauner joined organizers to declare the fair officially open.

(applause) “What a great day, one of the greatest days of the year! The opening of the Illinois State Fair 2017—165 years. Extraordinary. One of the oldest, most beautiful, biggest, best state fairs in America.”

The ribbon-cutting was moved up to Thursday afternoon — in previous years, it’d been left to Friday mornings. And that’s not the only change.

Several breweries from across the state will compete during a new attraction at this year's Illinois State Fair. 

Over 50 people rallied in Springfield Tuesday night to protest efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Signs had phrases like "Stop Repeal" and "Healthcare is a Human Right." On Tuesday, a close vote in the U.S. Senate led to the first potential legislative steps in dismantling the law.

The issue pits business interests against privacy concerns.

For Carolyn Parrish, a privacy professional based in Evanston, data privacy is just as important in her personal, everyday life, as it is to keeping her business running.

Illinois lawmakers and the governor have spent the past several days ratcheting up their calls for compromise to end the budget impasse.   

In response to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s order for a 10-day special session, the General Assembly  returned to Springfield this week to focus on crafting a budget. Three weeks ago, legislators tried to beat the end of the official spring legislative session and worked to pass measures ranging from women’s and LGBT rights, farmer’s market concerns and issues related to women in prison. Many of these bills were approved by both chambers, and are waiting to be sent to the governor.

Some reformers say Illinois' minimum age for juvenile detention needs to go up.

The spring legislative session has been overshadowed by a 22-month stretch without a budget. Nevertheless, meaty legislation is being weighed. Those issues include abortion, wage theft, animal research and criminal justice.

Abortion

Legislation passed out of the House Wednesday is meant to help close the gender wage gap in the state.

After a House vote of 91-24, the Equal Pay Act amendment will now be considered in the Senate as SB 981, under the sponsorship of Sen.  Daniel Biss, a Democrat from Evanston. 

Democratic Rep. Anna Moeller of Elgin, who sponsored House Bill 2462, says that while she expected the House to pass the bill, she was surprised by the number of yes votes.

Legislation aims to improve working conditions for temporary workers as the need for them increases.

The spring legislative session is in full swing under the shadow of a failed Grand Bargain, which aimed to end a 20-month stretch without a budget. Bills proposed are diverse, including lobbyist ethics, an Obama holiday, wage theft and animal welfare.