Mary Hansen

Mary is a reporter at NPR Illinois and graduated from the Public Affairs Reporting program at UIS and received her BA in International Studies from American University. Previously Mary worked as a planning consultant and reported for the State Journal-Register where she covered city government.

Mary is a lifelong NPR listener since tuning into her home station WESA in Pittsburgh.

You might have seen social media posts saying Tuesday was the voter registration deadline in Illinois.

But don’t worry: Illinois residents can sign up to vote through Election Day.

Technically, the Tuesday deadline was for “regular registration.” But as Matt Dietrich – a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections – explains, that just started the “grace period” registration.

“All grace period registration means is that you have to vote at the same time you register. And this year that went into effect on October 10,” he said.

Drone enthusiasts, be aware – the rules for the small, unmanned aircrafts could be changing in Illinois.

A new law bars cities from regulating the use of drones.

The law excludes the city of Chicago, but a spokesman with the Illinois Department of Transportation says it will create consistent rules around the rest of the state.

Jackie Reiser is a co-owner of Measure Illinois – a Springfield-based company that provides drones to oversee power lines and construction sites. She says more unified regulation is a good thing.

Election authorities around Illinois expect to be ready when early voting begins this Thursday.

Still, reform groups say rule changes are needed after problems arose during the primary. A ballot challenge in the crowded attorney general race delayed the start of early voting in some counties early this year.

Gary Smith has worked at the grain elevator at Okaw Farmer’s Co-op in Lovington, Illinois, for forty years. On his desk sit two computer screens, where he tracks corn and soybean prices online at the Chicago Board of Trade.

As he explains, trade moves fast: “Just bam bam bam, and within a few seconds it could change a nickel or a dime against your favor.”

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, John Lucas and his granddaughter, McKenna, bet on Saber Rattler at the Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville.

"If she wins this, it'll be the third race in a row she's won," says Lucas as they watch the horses round the final stretch of the track. Saber Rattler came in second.

Lucas has been visiting the track outside of St. Louis a few times a year since the 1980s, traveling across the Illinois border from O'Fallon, Missouri.

Lucas has noticed the steady downturn in fortunes for the track.

Just before noon on a recent Saturday, a group of political memorabilia collectors jostled for a spot around an exhibit table, checking their final bids in a silent auction.

They were in Springfield at the national American Political Items Collectors (APIC) conference. Most of the items up for auction at this table featured presidential candidates.


Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Last fall, JB Pritzker spoke to reporters after getting the nod from the Illinois Democratic County Chairs in Springfield. He told the crowd what his campaign was about.

"It's a lot about beating Bruce Rauner. But it isn't just about beating Bruce Rauner," the Hyatt Hotel heir and billionaire said. "It's about electing every Democrat, everywhere in this state. It's about building the biggest, strongest tent in Illinois politics. It's about being ready to win up and down the ballot."

NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on online shopping left two things clear – consumers who buy online will have to pay sales tax on more items, and some states will see more money from those online purchases.

In Illinois, one of the largest internet retailers, Amazon, has been collecting the tax from customers since 2015. And residents are asked on state income returns whether they’ve bought anything online so they can pay outstanding sales taxes, though many leave it blank.

Illinois is losing residents, according to recent census estimates, and common explanations include high taxes, unfriendly business policies or the state’s growing pension debt.

An article from the watchdog group Better Government Association examines those claims. The BGA’s senior editor, Bob Secter, says they distract from a deeper look at demographic trends.

Illinois will host what could be the most expensive race for governor in U.S. history. The huge increase in campaign spending raises a lot of questions about the rise of big money in politics. Between now and the election, Illinois Issues will examine the impact in a series we're calling Money Machines.

Talks to legalize sports betting in Illinois have heated up after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban last week.

As more retail chains shut down, cities across Illinois figure out what to do with millions of square feet of empty space.

CREDIT "PRISON BARS" BY FLICKR USER MICHAEL COGHLAN / (CC X 2.0)

A federal judge has ruled the Illinois prison system is still providing inadequate mental healthcare to inmates and that the treatment qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

The ruling comes after attorneys representing inmates filed a claim last year with the court that the department was not following through on a settlement reached in 2016 to overhaul mental health treatment in Illinois prisons.

NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Legislation to expand Illinois’ sales tax for online shopping recently passed the Senate. But it faces several more hurdles before it could become law.

The measure would require more out-of-state businesses to tax internet sales to Illinois residents. But its implementation depends on a case now before the U. S. Supreme Court, challenging a similar law in South Dakota.

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The Illinois Department of Corrections says a major cash crunch has it struggling to keep its facilities running.

The warning came Wednesday at a Senate budget hearing. But some Democratic lawmakers say that was the first time they were hearing the situation was so dire.

On a summer day in 2016, state prison officials were on the brink of a crisis at Western Illinois Correctional Center.

"SPORTS BETS" BY FLICKR USER THOMAS SCHLOSSER / (CC x 2.0)

March Madness fans in Illinois could not legally bet on Monday’s championship game. But that could change for next year’s tournament under a few proposals at the statehouse.

Right now, the only way to legally wager on a big game is to hop on a plane to Vegas.

But a U.S. Supreme Court decision expected this month could open the door to states legalizing sports betting—both in-person and online.

An industry study says earnings could total 681 million dollars—yielding just tens of millions in tax revenue.

BRIAN MACKEY / NPR ILLINOIS

  As Illinois attempts to balance its books, it’s dipping into pots of money meant to help cities and towns pay for services -- and local officials are looking for options.

One idea is to make it easier for smaller cities to gain home-rule status, which allows those towns to have more flexibility in how they operate. Home-rule governments can borrow more money for big road projects, set more zoning rules, and institute sales and gas taxes.

CARTER STALEY / NPR ILLINOIS

Candidates in the Illinois governor’s race blew through campaign contribution limits months ago, but recently a few state House races did too.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Part 2: Most of the radium-tainted earth from decades-old manufacturing in Ottawa has been removed, but one major site still needs cleanup.

Ken Ricci refers to his purchase of a Geiger counter, a handheld machine that detects radiation, as a "God wink." The 91-year-old Ottawa resident picked it up at a garage sale in 1982. Soon after, he and a friend used it to find several hot spots of contamination throughout the central Illinois city.

A Derivative of photo by Erik Hersman , licensed under CC By 2.0/ FLICKR

A recent federal appeals court decision struck down the requirement that minor parties offer a full slate of candidates for statewide or countywide offices, while another court battle looms.

On a windy Sunday in October, Josh Dill spent the afternoon gathering petition signatures for a Democratic candidate for Congress, Dr. David Gill.

Flickr user Pictures of Money / "Money" (CC BY 2.0)

As the holiday season kicks off, more people are using sites like Amazon and eBay to buy gifts.

The booming online shopping industry has cities across Illinois worried. They say it’s taking a bite out of their budgets. 

Illinois began collecting the state sales tax on more online purchases in 2015. But that generally doesn't include the extra percentage in local sales tax that is paid at a store. Peoria city manager Patrick Urich says his city has seen decreased revenue, and blames the outdated way Illinois collects taxes.

Buying shoes, a new computer or even toilet paper online can be convenient and cheap, but officials in cities across central Illinois say it’s taking a bite out of their budgets.