Illinois Issues

Brian Mackey
mattpenning.com 2011 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

   Twenty-fourteen was going to be a banner year for direct democracy in Illinois. At one point, it was possible voters would be asked to weigh in on as many as seven different ballot questions, including four constitutional amendments. But as the election draws near, two of those ideas are off the table: Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s push to impose legislative term limits failed to meet the requirements of the Constitution, and a separate attempt to change the way House and Senate districts are drawn failed to gather enough valid signatures.

End And Means: Term Limits Wouldn't Shake Up Springfield

Oct 1, 2014
Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

To hear the bluster of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner and his lackeys among the state’s editorial writers and punditry class, the court decisions tossing his proposed initiative to impose term limits on lawmakers was a shocking slap in the face of Illinois citizens and a huge victory for the Dark Lord of Illinois politics, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

Marilyn Escoe and her children — Kayla, Kyla and Kyle Escoe and Kaleyah Wesley — were homeless until November.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For Kaleyah Wesley, thoughts of her family’s life in a Chicago homeless shelter made it difficult to focus on school, particularly in math, the subject she found hardest.

The then-sixth-grader woke at 5 a.m. on weekdays to take a pair of trains from the north side Rogers Park shelter to her school in the North Lawndale neighborhood, which is on the west side. She says she had a negative attitude that rubbed off on her three younger siblings.

Race & Education: The Real Issue is About Justice

Sep 1, 2014

 

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."

— Frederick Douglass

 The balls in this Illinois lottery bounced inside a clear bowl as the number-holders anxiously watched. I was among them in a middle school commons in Matteson, a south suburb of Chicago. Our daughter’s number was 10. But would it be our lucky number tonight? 

A computer lab at North Elementary School in Marshall
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 Benjamin Churchill has been spending extra time with his daughter at the computer lately. Quinn, 8, will be taking her first state exam this school year, and unlike the tests her dad took, this one won’t require a No. 2 pencil. 

Senn High School students Delvon Woods and Dewayne Thomas participated in a restorative justice training program at Alternatives, a youth center in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

If a student happens to have been born black, he’s three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than his white classmates. That statistic comes from the U.S. Department of Education, and it’s often repeated by people who favor changing the way students are disciplined. But as with all averages, it obscures the rough edges that become apparent only when looking more closely at the numbers, and Illinois has some of the roughest edges around.

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

It’s no secret that many Illinois Democrats have been reluctant to throw their full support behind President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. And Republicans at the state level are not going to get behind a law that their party counterparts in the U.S. House have voted dozens of times to repeal. As a result, those seeking insurance in the state have been handed a mixed bag of policy.

 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

While the fat lady may not yet have sung for the new law slashing pension benefits for public workers, she certainly seems to be warming up in the wings, courtesy of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Monarch Butterfly
Adele Hodde / Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Urbana resident Alex Wild kept an eye out for monarch butterflies last year. He was alarmed by what he saw. Or rather, what he didn’t see.

“I saw two the entire season,” says Wild, a biologist and photographer who specializes in taking close-up pictures of insects. “That was it — and I was looking for them.”

In Tuscola, about 35 miles south of Champaign, butterfly enthusiasts Kirby and Cindy Pringle also had trouble finding monarchs. “We saw only a handful,” Kirby says. “We could probably count them on our fingers and toes.”

Illinois Issues: Threatened

Jul 1, 2014
Peregrine Falcon
WUIS/Illinois Issues

State updating endangered species list. Bird of prey may be relieved of the distinction.

Don Fullerton
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 Don Fullerton, a finance professor at the University of Illinois and a former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury Department, served as co-author of a chapter of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fifth assessment report, which was released this spring.

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

A new study indicates that the naturally occurring filtration systems in the Mississippi River are being overwhelmed by the amount of nitrogen going into the water. 

Howard A. Learner
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois has become a start-and-stop clean energy and environmental leader making great progress in some areas, but hitting too many self-imposed roadblocks. The recent legislative session likewise reflects both accomplishments and frustrations. Here are some glass half-full and half-empty examples: 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

"The biggest winners here in this session were the taxpayers, who were spared the extension of the income tax."

—Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno

 

With all due respect to the good senator from Lemont, Illinoisans may have won a Pyrrhic victory when lawmakers adjourned their spring session without voting to keep income tax rates at their current levels past their scheduled January 1 sunset.

Flickr user: TaxCredits.net

Amid the debate about the nation’s widening gap between rich and poor — a reality amplified in the State of the Union address — the numbers in Illinois paint a particularly striking picture.

It’s not your imagination. Multiple studies and census figures point to the rich getting richer and the poor and middle class treading water or losing ground all across the nation, but Illinois is among the states with the most pronounced divide. 

Meeting
Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice

Special monitoring visits to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice recently found youth detainees mowing lawns and building shelves rather than attending educational courses. Monitors discovered youth being given medication with inadequate consent and living in rooms that were improperly maintained. Facilities were found to lack the proper staff to treat juvenile offenders with mental illnesses. 

Poker, blackjack and roulette could soon join such games as Angry Birds, Candy Crush and Words With Friends on the laptops, tablets and smart phones of Illinois residents. 

Video Gaming: Illinoisians Get a Piece of the Action

Jun 1, 2014
Lucy’s Place is a video gaming parlor located in a strip mall in Springfield.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

With their bright lights and chirping electronic sounds, the row of five slot machines could be in any casino in the world.

The seats are comfortable. The attendant is a kindly elderly woman who offers to get you something to drink. Within minutes, you’ve just won $10 on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

But make no mistake, this isn’t Las Vegas. Or even one of Illinois’ 10 riverboat casinos. This is a strip mall in central Illinois, just a few storefronts away from a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, a nail salon and a dollar store.

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

When I started working at the state Capitol as a Public Affairs Reporting intern, I never would have imagined that I would be writing this column.

A key point in the PAR program comes in the fall when the interns are matched with their bureaus. It is exciting and nerve-wracking. Classmates and friends become competitors. Who will end up at the Chicago metro papers? Who will the Associated Press pick? While many of my classmates dreamed of the fast-paced atmosphere of a daily paper’s Statehouse bureau, I had a clear top choice in my sights: Illinois Issues

Christopher Z. Mooney
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In the November 2014 general election, Illinois voters will have a fairly rare opportunity: to weigh in directly on very significant changes in policy. In California and many other states, voting on initiatives and referenda is a routine sideshow in the electoral circus. But in Illinois, statewide voting on policy questions is rare. In the past 20 years, this has only happened four times. But this year alone, Illinois voters could face up to four ballot measures to amend the state’s Constitution.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois has some 6,500 units of local government — a great many more than any other state in the nation. A pattern of overlapping jurisdictions, pyramided taxing powers, fragmented public services and divided responsibility has pervaded Illinois and caused a complex and complicated tangle of governments at the local level.

Is this a recent observation from some academic think tank, offered as Illinoisans this month face paying the first installment of the property taxes that sustain most of the 6,500-plus governing bodies?

Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Democratic state Rep. Greg Harris, sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill, celebrate after the House approved the measure.
Illinois House Democrats

It was May 31, 2013, and the cause of same-sex marriage rights was gusting through America like a spring squall. Public opinion had recently swung around on the issue so dramatically that it took even its long-time proponents by surprise. The earlier trend of states outlawing gay marriage had completely looped back on itself in the 2012 elections, with an unbroken string of states’ voters — Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington — either approving same-sex unions or declining to outlaw them. Perhaps even more important, the U.S.

  If you hate negative political ads, you may want to turn off your television and spend this summer outside. 

Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner are facing off in a race that is expected to break campaign-spending records in the state. The contest will likely draw national interest and money, and much of the resources on both sides will be spent on television advertising.

John Roberts with his son Billy in a photograph taken shortly before the Homer Glen teen’s death because of a heroin overdose in 2010. Roberts subsequently co-founded the Heroin Epidemic Relief Organization.
John Roberts

Not too long ago in the small town of Coulterville, police responded to a heroin overdose call. Once they arrived on the scene, all officers could do was wait out the more than 12 minutes it took for an ambulance to arrive.

In this rural area about 35 miles southeast of Belleville and home to about 950 people, ambulance response times can take eight to 14 minutes, says police Chief Jason Schlesinger. “It would have been a lot better” if his officers could have acted right away, he says. “That time lapse can cause death.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney headshot
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS - Illinois Issues

 Illinois is in a funk. It’s clear.

Last month, a Gallup survey found by a wide margin Illinoisans are less trusting of their state government than residents of any other place in the nation. 

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The U.S. Supreme Court last month issued a decision that opens the door for wealthy donors to give more to candidates, parties and political action committees (PACs). The ruling could have broad implications for the future regulation of campaign spending on the state and federal level. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As the Illinois General Assembly girds for what everyone hopes will be the final month of its spring session, the spotlight is on a handful of high-profile issues, topped by crafting a budget for the 2015 Fiscal Year that starts July 1.

Key to budget-making, of course, is whether lawmakers heed Gov. Pat Quinn’s call for keeping in place current income tax rates, now scheduled to roll back on January 1. Allowing the rates to drop dramatically would lead to “extreme and radical cuts” in education and other core state services, the governor warned in his March budget address.

An upcoming film about the late author and former Illinois State University professor David Foster Wallace opted not to film in the Bloomington-Normal area and instead chose Michigan, reportedly for the state’s more generous tax breaks.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Robots from space attacked Chicago, blowing up buildings and vaporizing residents as they ran through the streets. A mad villain flipped a semi-trailer end over end and blew up a hospital. Two blues men drove through a suburban mall, crashed into the lobby of the Richard J. Daley Center and caused a pileup of police cruisers while tearing around the city on a holy mission. 

Outside the U.S. Supreme Court, Flora Johnson, chairwoman of Executive Board of SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana, in January answers questions about Harris v. Quinn.
SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana

Editor's Note 2/10/2015: Since the original publication of this article, the U.S. Supreme ruled in favor of Pam Harris, who is paid through the Medicaid program to care for her disabled son at home. The opinion categorized some home caregivers as “partial public employees,” whom the court said could not be required to pay dues if they opted not to join a union. The ruling was seen as narrow at the time because it did not overturn the 1977 opinion Abood v.

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