Sam Dunklau

Sam is a Public Affairs Reporting intern for spring 2018, working out the NPR Illinois Statehouse bureau.

Food and drink vendors at this year’s Illinois State Fair say fewer people lined up for things like corn dogs and lemon shake-ups. That fits with an official report of declining overall attendance.

    

Public health advocates and some state lawmakers spurned Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s decision to veto a bill that would have raised the legal tobacco age to 21.

Rauner axed the bill last Friday, though his own Department of Public Health supported it. While he called smoking “detrimental” in his veto message, the governor said Illinois couldn’t take the risk of losing tobacco sales tax revenue to neighboring states.

Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois

Experts say billions in a multi-year plan won't go far enough to address infrastructure repairs and upkeep.

With help from the federal government, Illinois will put more than $2 billion toward infrastructure projects this year across the state's network of roads and bridges. But that network is underfunded by billions more, and what the state has pledged is a far cry from fixing that.

While Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner celebrated the US Supreme Court’s decision in the Janus labor case on Wednesday, his chief opponent on the campaign trail was quick to criticize. J.B. Pritzker took to the podium in Springfield to do just that.


Illinois will soon mint commemorative coins to mark the state’s 200th birthday. They're the latest in a string of products the state is offering to mark its bicentennial year.

Illinois Treasurer Mike Frerichs hosted a several months-long contest, challenging designers to capture Illinois’ history on a single coin face. Submissions poured in from far and wide, but they were eventually whittled down to five finalists, whose designs were then voted on by the public.

Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is supporting President Donald Trump’s pick to be the next ambassador to Kenya: Illinois state Sen. Kyle McCarter. That’s despite the significant political differences between Durbin and McCarter.

Durbin says he met with McCarter this week in Washington, D.C. to discuss his Kenya nomination.

McCarter is quite conservative, and Durbin says his voting record poses “some issues.” But that isn’t stopping him from giving the Republican a thumbs up.

Flickr user Credo Action / (CC x 2.0)

Federal net neutrality protections ended Monday, despite Illinois lawmakers attempting to block the move earlier this year.

Democrats in both the Illinois House and Senate worked feverishly to get some kind of net neutrality measure passed ahead of the rollback, but to no avail. Its supporters say changing the Obama-era rules allows internet companies to prioritize some websites and content over other kinds. 

Ed Yohnka of ACLU Illinois says internet users should have the right to choose what they see.

Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois

As part of the new Illinois budget, some 24,000 state workers will get paid for salary increases they were supposed to get as far back as 2011.

AFSCME says it agreed to temporarily defer annual raises after the 2008 financial crisis. The union later negotiated increases that were supposed to start in 2011, but the General Assembly never approved the spending — until now.

Matt Lukow works for the Illinois Department of Corrections. He says he’s owed a few thousand dollars.

The Illinois legislature overwhelmingly passed a full year budget Thursday. It includes a few plans to cut down on the state’s massive pension debt.


The legal age to buy tobacco in Illinois may soon go up from 18 to 21. The measure narrowly passed the Illinois House Wednesday night 61 to 49, after failing once before.


Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois

The Illinois legislature has again moved to regulate gun dealers. It comes after Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed a similar measure back in March, calling it "onerous bureaucracy."

To satisfy Rauner’s concerns from the first time around, lawmakers from both parties revamped the legislation, calling it gun dealer certification. Instead of all-out licensing, the state would simply certify that a dealer is running a clean business. That, they say, would cut down on costs and red tape opponents took issue with in the first place.

Legislation allowing a major expansion of gambling in Illinois failed on Monday. It’s something lawmakers have been working on for years, as an effort to raise money for state and local governments.

It’s been just about six months since a new Illinois law allowing 16 and 17 year olds to donate organs went into effect. Has the change made a difference for those waiting for life-saving organ transplants?

State lawmakers are continuing to push Illinois gun legislation in the wake of a recent run of mass shootings. The Illinois House approved a measure Wednesday that would allow police to take guns away from someone if a court finds them dangerous.


Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois

Illinois lawmakers are pushing a measure to allow immigrants who are victims of domestic or sexual abuse to more easily make their case to the police.

Immigrants might be undocumented for a variety of reasons. Some crossed the US border by choice in search of a better life, but others were brought here by force as human trafficking or sexual violence victims.

That’s who state lawmakers are trying to protect with a proposal to help them more easily pursue charges against their abusers, and let them stay in the US temporarily.

After more than two years of extensive renovations, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner moved back into the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield on Monday.

Flickr User Mark / (CC x 2.0)

The Illinois General Assembly approved a measure allowing parents to give their kids medical marijuana at school.

It’s named after Ashley Surin, an 11-year-old girl who suffers from severe epilepsy. Her doctor prescribed her patches with a small amount of cannabis oil on them, which her parents say has been a “golden cure.”

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner this week added sweeping changes to a piece of gun legislation, in a move some state legislators called “political gamesmanship” and “unconstitutional.” But the lawmaker behind the original bill isn’t backing down, announcing Wednesday he's asking the Illinois House to agree with those changes.


About 114 million people visited Illinois last year, setting a new state record. That’s according to the latest state tourism data released on Tuesday.

According to the numbers, that’s roughly two million more people than the year before. In all, travelers spent $40 billion of their dollars on Illinois hotels, restaurants, and attractions.

That gave local governments and the state a cut of about $3 billion in tax money.

Illinois legislators are taking up a measure to change the way police gather information for gang databases. It comes after more than a year of controversy surrounding the Chicago Police Department’s data collection practices.


IL SENATE DEMOCRATS / TWITTER

Budget talks at the Illinois Statehouse have shown no real sign of progress. This week, Senate Democrats pressed Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration to explain its proposal to shift pension costs to local school districts.

The governor’s budget director, Hans Zigmund, defended the idea at a Senate committee, saying Illinois would face a deficit worth billions absent this or other cost-saving measures.

If the shift is approved, school districts around the state would pay an additional 25 percent of their pension costs in the next year alone.

VIA ILLINOIS CENTRAL MANAGEMENT SERVICES

Three million Illinois Medicaid users will soon have more access to mental health and substance abuse treatments. Officials in Washington, D.C., OK’d a new state program that sets aside about $2 billion in Medicaid funds for the services.

If you’re someone who uses Medicaid, you’re covered if you go to the doctor’s office or hospital when you get physically sick. But if you have a mental health issue like depression, for example, and want a counselor to come visit you at home, it’s a different story.

Hundreds of police officers, families, and state officials gathered in Springfield on Thursday for an annual service honoring officers killed in the line of duty. Officers from the Chicago area and Rockford were memorialized in the service at the Illinois State Library.

quincyivh.org

Governor Bruce Rauner’s administration says a costly rebuild of the Illinois Veterans' Home in Quincy is the best way to get rid of Legionella bacteria linked to more than a dozen deaths there. While some state legislators support the move, others remain skeptical.

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Lawmakers in the Illinois House voted to implement more stringent background checks on drivers for rideshare services like Uber and Lyft.

Drivers already have to pass some kind of background check. But state Rep. Laura Fine (D-Glenview) says those checks haven’t always been enough to stop unqualified people from picking up the gig.

During a House debate, Fine talked about an Uber driver from her hometown who was arrested for drunk driving while on the job.

SAM DUNKLAU / NPR ILLINOIS 91.9 FM

Illinois' largest public employee union feels it has plenty to complain about. The union known as AFSCME has been fighting for what it says is overdue pay — going all the way back to 2011.

Some 38,000 state workers are represented by labor union AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The members rallied at the Illinois Statehouse this week, and their anger was on display.

The union has been sparring with the state and the two most recent governors over pay raises.

The Illinois House failed to pass legislation related to the Affordable Care Act on Friday. It would have locked in certain health insurance benefits. 

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, more than 90% of Illinoisans have health insurance. The landmark 2010 law banned companies from using pre-existing condition clauses, and let more low-income people join Medicaid. 

ILLINOIS STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS

As the midterm election draws near, some state lawmakers want to change the way Illinois’ political districts are drawn. They want to do that by giving voters a chance to change the constitution. 

The Democrats want to hand off control of legislative map drawings to what they call an independent commission. Republicans agree, but say they want more people on the commission and more public hearings.

Both also say they want to change the constitution to take partisan advantage out of future map making.

Chase Cavanaugh / WNIJ News

Governor Bruce Rauner says he would send Illinois National Guard soldiers to the US-Mexico border, if asked by President Donald Trump.

“Frankly, the president is the commander-in-chief of our military," he said while fielding questions at an event in Springfield Tuesday. "Illinois has not been requested to send troops. If we are requested, I believe we’ll honor that request.”

  

So far, only Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico have agreed to send guardsmen, after President Trump called for a military response to what he calls “lawlessness” at the border.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The Illinois General Assembly is considering whether people should be allowed to sue to block regulatory decisions of state government. The state’s business community says that’s dangerous for the economy.

The legislation would change the rules surrounding decisions on things like construction permits. Typically, input on those decisions are limited to a state agency and a business applying for a permit. Anyone who proves they would be “adversely affected” by a project could sue to get its permit revoked.

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