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Amanda Vinicky

Illinois has the worst funded pension system in the nation, and lawmakers have until today to do something about it.  The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn by midnight.  After that, it requires extra votes to get legislation to the governor's desk. Pensions are not the only thing left.  Plenty of other big-ticket policy issues are also unresolved.

                                                                      

The Illinois Senate overwhelmingly rejected legislation on Thursday that would curtail government employees' and teachers' retirement benefits.

It raises the question of whether lawmakers will do anything to address Illinois' indebted retirement systems before they adjourn Friday night.

The pension-cutting legislation passed the House at the start of month.

But when it got a vote in the Senate yesterday, it didn't just fail - it plunged.  The Senate vote was 16 to 42.

  We’ve brought you interviews with new Springfield school board members over the past couple days. Today we speak with Donna Moore about her background and goals for district 186:

Dynamic Patterns Theatre

Famed poet Emily Dickinson dedicated herself to documenting the joys and sorrows of life in the 1800s.

This month actor Sherri Mitchell brings Dickinson's life and work to the stage in Springfield and Jacksonville.

Mitchell joined Peter Gray on Illinois Edition to talk about her one-woman production, The Belle of Amherst, and what it's like to transport audiences back to the 19th century:

For information about Jacksonville performances May 30-June 2, CLICK HERE

Sheila Simon
Illinois.gov

The Illinois Senate has approved a multi-faceted change to the state's election laws. The legislation is almost as notable for what it does not do, as for what it does.

The proposal would make dozens of changes to state law, including online voter registration. But until Wednesday, the legislation also would have changed how Illinois gets a lieutenant governor.

Amanda Vinicky

Even as the legislative session winds down -- its last day is Friday -- there's no agreement on a solution to the state's pension problem.   

It's not like the problem came out of nowhere.  The $100 billion dollars of unfunded liability accumulated over decades.

And legislators have been talking about what to do about it for years.   Especially this session.

The House and Senate each passed legislation to cut Illinois' costs by reducing state employees and teachers' retirement benefits.  But both measures are stalled in the opposite chamber.

Another key component of the Illinois state budget moved through the General Assembly on Wednesday. The Democrats' spending plan prevents what could have been steep cuts for schools, but Republicans say students outside Chicago are getting shortchanged.

  Democrats are approving mostly level funding for elementary and high schools in Illinois. That's significant because education spending, like most areas of the state budget, has been cut in recent years. And Gov. Pat Quinn's budget proposal said even deeper cuts would be necessary.

Yesterday we brought you an interview with school board member Mike Zimmers. Today we speak with Adam Lopez, an insurance agent who was seated on the new Springfield school board earlier this month. Listen to the interview with Lopez about the budget, a school closure, and more:

 

This interview is part of an ongoing series, more interviews with District 186 school board members will follow. 

  School lets out for the summer today in district 186. That means the end of a three year run for a middle school thats closure was hotly debated in Springfield. As the school board took multiple votes on whether to keep the Capitol College Preparatory Academy, or CCPA, open – parents, teachers, and students showed up in droves to fight for their school. But the battle to keep the school that taught grades 6 through 8 open has been lost. Listen to the story:

 

Here’s an interview with a CCPA parent and PTO president, Robert Ogden:

TRANSCRIPT:

The bulk of a new state budget passed out of the Illinois House Tuesday, and now heads to the Senate. It's far less harsh than lawmakers had been predicting at the start of the legislative session. 

 

A mix of tourists and lobbyists milled about the rotunda of the Illinois Statehouse on Tuesday.
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Illinois House gave final approval on Tuesday to a ban the hand-held use of cell phones behind the wheel. The fate of the idea is now up to Gov. Pat Quinn. The issue had been debated before, but one opponent of the measure had a few new points to make.

Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, decided to recount a long story about a recent stop at a Wendy's. He ordered a Frosty.

Profile courtesy of LinkedIn

More than six thousand bills are before the Illinois General Assembly this spring session.  Legislators have until Friday to get through them.

And with some of the biggest policy issues facing the state still outstanding, measures will move, change and die rapidly.   Amanda Vinicky spoke with a recent University of Illinois Urbana Champaign graduate has founded a company that aims to make it easier to follow what's happening at the capitol.   

Like so many endeavors, this one started small.

Reps. Darlene Senger and Elaine Nekritz
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Members of the Illinois House continued pushing for their version of a pension overhaul Tuesday. The latest twist could affect how public school teachers' pensions are funded. Brian Mackey has more.

One of the more contentious issues in the debate over government pensions in Springfield has been who should pay for teachers' retirement benefits.

  Some Springfield public school administrators are violating a policy that says they must live within district 186, according to a new board member. Adam Lopez is the school board’s vice president, he was seated earlier this month. He says he’s heard complaints from district 186 faculty that the policy is not being enforced. Lopez says it’s an issue that should be considered by the new school board, and either enforced or done away with. His personal opinion?

Mike Zimmers worked in district 186 in a variety of roles – administrator, teacher, principal, coach… And now he serves on the school board. His win unseated previous school board president, Susan White. In this interview Zimmers tells us about his priorities for Springfield public schools, the search for a new superintendent, the closure of a middle school, and more:

 

This interview is part of an ongoing series, more interviews with District 186 school board members will follow.

SpringfieldSliders.com

It’s Opening Night for the team that plays its home games at Robin Roberts Stadium on Springfield’s north side.  Sliders’ Director of Community Relations Bill Hill and Field Manager Pete Romero stopped by to talk about what’s in store this season and the future of baseball in Springfield.

The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

While many people across Illinois had Monday off from work for Memorial Day, the members of the Illinois General Assembly were meeting in Springfield. Just four days remain until lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn for the summer. The last week of session is a time for individual legislators to shine — or stumble — as months of hard work on legislation culminates in long-awaited votes. We took a look at some of this week's key players in Springfield.

Capitol in fog
Amanda Vinicky / NPR Illinois

The legislative countdown continues, as Illinois' General Assembly is set to adjourn Friday.   Lawmakers spent their Memorial Day at the capitol, where little apparent progress was made on many of the outstanding issues.    The Senate met only briefly yesterday - the bulk of Senators' time was spent in private, partisan meetings.That's where they often make decisions on how to proceed on controversial issues. Like the budget. 

In the waning days of its legislative session, Illinois took a major step toward implementing President Barack Obama's signature health care program.   That Democrats, who hold solid majorities in the General Assembly, waited until this late in the session is telling.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

There are five days left in the Illinois General Assembly's spring session. Legislators have a lot of work ahead of them.  The House adjourns on Memorial Day at noon; the Senate convenes at 4 p.m.

                   

  

                                       

Typically, fighting over the budget carries into the waning hours of a legislative session.

But Democrats - who have enough seats to pass a spending plan without any Republican votes - say they've already reached a deal.

Paul Kehrer via Flickr

Internet gambling on horse racing would once again be legal in Illinois under legislation approved Sunday by the Illinois House of Representatives.

Online and telephone horse betting has been illegal in Illinois all year — a law authorizing it expired on Dec. 31. The practice, known as "advanced deposit wagering," was a $122 million business in Illinois last year.

The legislation would also finally redistribute money from casino gambling that was supposed to shore up the struggling horse racing industry, but instead has been languishing in a state account.

Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court

Illinois lawmakers remain at odds over how to handle the state's $100 billion of pension debt.  But there's a chance that this spring the General Assembly may finally do something about it.  After years of no major action, there are not one, but two major packages designed to reign in Illinois' retirement costs.  The House and Senate passed competing plans.  Both of them seek to save Illinois money by cutting current and retired government workers' benefits.  But one important group of government workers are being left out of both deals - judges.

Concealed carry debate
Chris Slaby/WUIS

The Illinois House on Friday approved legislation that would let Illinoisans carry concealed firearms. But Gov. Pat Quinn says he'll work to "stop it in its tracks."

The measure is being touted as a compromise by its sponsor, Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg.

"As we all know, after years of debating this issue, it is incredibly difficult, if not darn-near impossible, to come to a middle ground on this issue," Phelps said. "Every legislator on this floor has a different opinion when it comes to concealed-carry policy."

The Illinois House on Wednesday rejected an attempt to take a closer look at the field of psychiatry and its role in shaping Illinois law. The sticking point for some lawmakers was a group backing the proposal.

As the field of psychiatry publishes its first new diagnostic manual in more than a decade, it's been attracting a lot of discussion.

Joe Shlabotnik via Flickr

The Illinois House has voted to raise Illinois' top speed limit to 70 miles-per-hour. Currently, cars and trucks are limited to 65 miles-an-hour on most Illinois highways.

Opponents warned that raising the speed limit would result in more accidents. But the bill's sponsor, Democratic Representative Jerry Costello, from Smithton, says more accidents happen because of vehicles traveling at different speeds — not because of higher speeds.

The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in case challenging the state's so-called "Amazon tax." The decision could change the way Illinois websites make money online. Brian Mackey reports.

When you click a product link on a website — like if a blogger links to a book she's reviewing — the blogger can make a deal with the retailer to get a cut of the sale.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Illinois' stack of overdue bills is smaller, thanks to stronger-than expected tax revenues.  But as lawmakers begin finalizing a new state budget, one of the state's chief fiscal officers is cautioning lawmakers to get thrifty.  

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's wearing a purple, long-sleeved knit dress.  It's by St. John's, a designer label whose dresses retail for about $800. Topinka brags she got it for $7 at Goodwill.

Schools that have sexual education classes would have to go beyond "abstinence-only" under a measure Illinois legislators sent the governor. The plan seeks to ensure students are getting medically accurate and age appropriate information.

                                                       

The measure does not require schools to offer sex ed courses.

But if they do ... the legislation mandates that middle and high schools include information about birth control.

Senator Linda Holmes is a Democrat, from Aurora:

 Former superintendent Walter Milton’s separation agreement with District 186 violated open meeting laws, according to an opinion by the state’s Attorney General. The previous school board decided to part ways with Milton during the winter before his contract was up. So, the members approved a severance plan worth over $175,000 and agreed to pay health and dental insurance.

http://alertsense.com/Home/AlertSense

Residents in the Springfield area can now sign up to have alerts about severe weather and other emergencies sent right to their phone.

The city received a $10,000 grant to set up the new system.  The money comes through the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, which distributes federal funds to city and county governments for public safety programs and disaster preparedness tools.

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