News

Amanda Vinicky

A state pension overhaul backed by government employee unions may save only half of what advocates had promised.  That underscores an ongoing battle between the House and Senate over pensions, with only ten days left in the legislative session.  

 

There's general agreement on this much: that Illinois' public pension systems have $100 billion dollars in unfunded liabilities.  That's a fancy word that basically means "debt."

It's a big number that's getting Illinois in trouble with bond houses and eating into the state's budget.

Bill Wheelhouse / Harvest Public Media

As Congress fiddles with major farm legislation, there’s a portion of it that gets very little attention. Some say it is a difference-maker for job creation in small rural communities,and provides a boost those towns need. 

Dominic Genetti

Monday night's severe storms stopped the presses of the local newspaper in Hannibal, Missouri. A widespread power outage prevented the Hannibal Courier-Post from getting a print edition to readers.  Reporters there, including Dominic Genetti, used the internet and social media to provide news updates on damage caused by 90 mile-an-hour winds.   As Genetti told Peter Gray on Illinois Edition Tuesday, two funnel clouds were reportedly spotted just outside of town last night:

  Foreign exchange students who spent this past school year in central Illinois with their host families are bidding them adieu. At a recent dinner 14 exchange students from countries like Spain, Thailand, and Germany shared meals from their native countries as they prepare to return home:

 

Chris Reid is mixing up a crockpot full of bright colored noodles and meatballs, food she helped her foreign exchange daughter from Toyko cook for tonight’s farewell ceremony…

SJ-R.com

A major medical expansion, the retail boom continues in Springfield and we update farmers’ planting progress on this week’s business report with Tim Landis, Business Editor of the State Journal-Register:

Flickr

More than 2 million people a year visit Illinois state historic sites.  The locations play a big role in both state and local economies.   But they often lack political muscle.
So a more coordinated effort is underway to bring back the Historic Preservation caucus in the Illinois General Assembly.

Speaking on WUIS’ Illinois Edition, Chris Wills with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency says there is a need:

ILGA.gov

Despite years of cuts to the Illinois state budget ... even more are ahead.  Legislators are still deciding where else they can slash spending.

 

"Human services" is a legislative phrase Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) says covers:

HARRIS: "All the state departments  dealing with health care, senior services, children services, so the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Medicaid, human services, mental health, substance abuse, Department of Aging, DCFS, public health and veterans... "

Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, standing at right, debates medical marijuana in the Illinois Senate.
Chris Slaby/WUIS

The Illinois Senate approved legislation Friday that would legalize the medical use of marijuana.

In the end, the vote was not that close — 35 senators voted yes, 21 no.

Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, sponsored the measure. He frequently reminds his colleagues he was once a prosecutor, and says the idea is to help people in pain find relief.

  JP Harris & the Tough Choices play at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield tonight (5/17) as part of WUIS’ Bedrock 66 Live Concert Series. Harris’s music has been called “real country” and Harris calls his music “Hank Williams with a Motorhead attitude.” The Alabama native and Nashville transplant shares his music and what inspires it in this interview:

 

CLICK HERE to get tickets to tonight’s show.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Illinois universities and community colleges have signed on to a deal that would have them pick up the cost of their employees' retirement benefits.  It's part of lawmakers' ongoing efforts to reduce how much the state is spending on pensions. 

Illinois has cut its spending on universities for years ... and even more reductions are expected next year.

School administrators say it's forced them to hike tuition, and to leave positions unfilled.

A concealed firearm.
Mark Holloway via Flickr

An Illinois Senate committee has approved legislation that would pave the way for concealed-carry of firearms in Illinois. But gun-rights advocates say it's too restrictive, and the measure faces an uphill climb.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, was trying to negotiate a compromise with gun-rights supporters. But ultimately he went his own way. His proposal would not allow guns in schools, day cares, casinos, and stadiums.

Peter Gray

The State of Illinois caps the number of high needs learners who share the attention of a single special education teacher.

For the past decade, there has also been a limit on how many children with disabilities can be placed in what are known as “general education” public school classrooms.

But those rules could soon be repealed.

The mother of a young man with autism has joined advocates for the disabled who say the proposed change has to do more with cost-savings than with properly educating kids.

FARNSWORTH: “My name is George Farnsworth.”

Flickr.com/thebuffafamily

Just over two weeks remain before the Illinois General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn for the summer, on May 31st. They still have a lot to deal with in that time — like pensions, concealed carry, same-sex marriage, and next year's budget. But an incident Wednesday in the Illinois House shows tempers are already starting to flare.

Amanda Vinicky

After several stumbles, an agreement  has been reached on how to regulate "fracking" in Illinois.  A House committee could vote on the package Thursday morning.  

  The oil and natural gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing has been a boon for job creation in places like  North Dakota and Pennsylvania.

State legislators want the same in Illinois.

As do oil and gas drillers looking to make a handsome profit.

John Michael Presney is a Rochester native who’s spent the last couple years touring the country as part of a musical production that he played rockabilly star Carl Perkins in. But 25 year old Presney has crafted a music-style all his own. And he has a new EP called ‘The Nighttime and the Dawn’ to prove it.

  The third Springfield PrideFest is this Saturday. The all-day event celebrating gay pride includes food, drinks, and performances. The festival will be on Capitol Avenue between 4th and 6th streets downtown. WUIS’ Rachel Otwell recently spoke with Jonna Cooley about it, she’s the executive director of The Pheonix Center which puts on the event:

CLICK HERE for more info about the event on Saturday in downtown Springfield from noon to 9pm.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

A local elementary school is teaching students about growing their own food with a hands-on project. Rachel Otwell recently visited the community garden across from McClernand Elementary School and spoke with instructors and students as they planted and tended to plots. She brings us this story:

Thinkprogress.org

Could Illinois be getting closer to legalizing the medical use of marijuana?  Dan Riffle is with the Marijuana Policy Project, which has lobbied state lawmakers to approve the law.  He was a guest on WUIS’ Illinois Edition with Sean Crawford. 

road construction
Gary Brown via Flickr (gsbrown99)

Less than half of the money in Illinois' Road Fund actually pays for highway construction and maintenance. That's the finding in a new audit (pdf) that also says the Road Fund overpaid for employee health insurance.

Calvin Christian

Members of the Springfield City Council are looking for a way to prevent further incidents like the one in April in which police records were apparently shredded or deleted after they were requested by a local reporter through the Freedom of Information Act.

Tuesday night aldermen passed out of committee an ordinance that would require all changes to union contracts be approved by the Council and signed by the Mayor.  Such contractual changes are known as memorandums of understanding, or MOUs. 

The Illinois House approved legislation Friday intended to crack down on so-called "flash mobs." It allows a longer prison sentence for anyone who uses social media to organize an attack.

 The Springfield school board decided last night it will begin interviewing search firms and may hire one to find a new superintendent for district 186. The district has an interim superintendent who took over for Walter Milton at the beginning of April. It’s been debated since then how to go about finding someone to permanently replace him.

siumed.edu

The American Cancer Society is now recruiting volunteers in central Illinois for its third major cancer prevention study.

Dr. Wiley Jenkins is an epidemiologist with the SIU School of Medicine and is a member of the Simmons Cancer Institute in Springfield.

He joined Peter Gray on Illinois Edition to explain why those who’ve witnessed a loved one’s battle with cancer should sign up to be a “volunteer champion”.

The Illinois Senate is expected to vote Thursday on the latest proposal to fix the state's drastically underfunded pension systems. In what's become a multi-year pension debate, many aspects of the plan have been put forth before. But it has one element that makes it unique.

ler.illinois.edu

Are government workers underpaid?  Bob Bruno says his research shows in many cases, they are.  He authored a study that found when comparing comparable jobs in the public and private sector, those who work for government, including teachers, get the short shrift.    Bruno is a professor of Labor and Employment Relations at the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois.  

He told WUIS' Sean Crawford the purpose of the study and how he went about the comparisons:

springfield.il.us

Springfield Mayor Mike Houston says he's gathering more information about events last month that triggered allegations that the city destroyed files sought in a Freedom of Information Act Request.

Attorneys for Springfield resident Calvin Christian say the police department violated a state public records retention law last month by destroying dozens of internal affairs files subject to a FOIA request filed by Christian.

SJ-R

This week, Tim Landis of the State Journal-Register discusses the new use for the Maisenbacher House in Springfield, the city’s first major project tied to consolidation of rail traffic and a survey that shows small businesses play an big role in the area’s economy:

When a federal court declared Illinois' ban on letting people carry guns in public unconstitutional ... it also gave legislators an assignment: pass a concealed carry law by June 9. Lawmakers are in continued negotiations, but so far gun rights' activists have been unable to reach an agreement with those who favor stricter gun control.  Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is doubtful they will ... at least in time.  He fears that could leave Illinois temporarily without ANY real limits on who can carry a gun, and where.

Rachel Otwell/WUIS

Tensions were high at last night’s (5/6) Springfield district 186 school board meeting as the 

  new board was seated and a president and vice president were appointed.

The meeting started with goodbyes for the previous school board members.

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