Government

Government and Legislature

Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

More than $55 million went back to Illinois municipalities from video gaming in 2016. But how do those communities use those funds?

Springfield Budget Director Bill McCarty says the city received about $1.5 million from video gaming last year. Those funds generally contribute to the city’s capital improvement projects, like sidewalk and street maintenance.

However, McCarty says, they haven’t had to dip into the video gaming money yet, thanks to a sales tax increase also contributing to the capital fund.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly unveiled new policies on Tuesday that are aimed at detaining and deporting more immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

The two memos, signed by Kelly, lay out a series of steps the department plans to take to implement President Donald Trump's executive orders from late January. Those orders called for increased border security and better enforcement of the nation's immigration laws.

iit.edu

About 200 students protested in the Illinois Capitol rotunda Wednesday.  They’re part of the Illinois Coalition to Invest in Higher Education.

The group wanted to show lawmakers the importance of funding colleges and universities, as well as MAP grants for students.  

One of the protestors was Kiasee Ray,  a freshman at Dominican University in River Forest. She says the MAP grant is the reason she's in college today.

AP

The approval of controversial nominee Betsy DeVos as the next U.S. Secretary of Education took a historical twist Tuesday.

Vice President Mike Pence – barely over two weeks into his term – cast a tie-breaking vote in his Constitutional role as President of the U.S. Senate.

That was the 246th time that a vice president had to resolve a Senate deadlock, but it was the only time such a vote was cast to decide a cabinet appointment.

Last week, President Trump signed an executive order suspending new-refugee admissions for 120 days and blocking travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia — for 90 days. Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.

A Northern Illinois University professor was one of the hundreds of demonstrators at O’Hare International Airport last weekend. The protests were against President Donald Trump’s travel restrictions against people from majority-Muslim countries.

NIU education professor Joseph Flynn says he saw many walks of life take part in the O’Hare Airport demonstrations – including several different races and creeds and members of the LGBTQ community.

Brian Mackey / Illinois Public Radio

Top leaders in the Illinois Senate continue to negotiate on a "grand bargain" to end the state's budget standoff.

They left the Capitol on an 11-day break Thursday without voting on the proposals.

Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat, is negotiating with his Republican counterpart.

He told his colleagues: When the session resumes next month, come back ready to vote.

"The problems we face are not going to disappear. In fact, they're going to get more difficult every day,” Cullerton said.

U.S. Capitol
"United States Capitol" by Flickr User Cliff / (CC X 2.0)

GOP leaders in the House and Senate say torturing suspected terrorists is illegal, and that stand distances them from President Donald Trump's endorsement of the effectiveness of harsh interrogation techniques.

The U.S. has a legal ban on torture.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky tells reporters that virtually all GOP senators ``are comfortable with the state of the law on that issue.''

And House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin says: ``Torture's not legal. And we agree with it not being legal.''

State of Illinois

The Senate adjourned abruptly early Wednesday evening after Democrats and Republicans held private caucus meetings that lasted more than three hours.

 

A spokesman for Democratic Senate President John Cullerton issued a statement saying Senate leaders continue to discuss the massive compromise plan, and the Senate will return to session today.

whitehouse.gov

President Obama holds what the White House bills as his final news conference this afternoon. NPR and WNIJ will bring it to you live beginning at 1:00. 

A spokesman for Obama told CBS News the president has called this press conference because he wants to say farewell to the White House press corps and "show them the respect they've earned." 

You can listen to WNIJ's coverage on 89.5 FM and WNIJ.org

U.S. Congress

We kick off a new series on WNIJ this morning: the Friday Forum. Today, we catch up with two members of the U.S. House from northern Illinois, just as the 115th Congress is getting underway. 

Republican Adam Kinzinger represents the 16th district, which stretches from the Wisconsin state line to the Indiana state line. It includes portions of Rockford, DeKalb, and Dixon. Democrat Cheri Bustos represents the 17th district. She just started her third term representing the western Illinois area that runs along the Mississippi River and reaches into portions of Rockford and Peoria.

Evan Vucci/AP

The NPR Politics team and reporters across the newsroom will be live-annotating a news conference with President-elect Donald Trump, expected at 10 am today. 

We will be fact-checking and providing background to his remarks in real-time. We will be paying special attention to any comments about conflicts of interest, health care and national security.

You can follow NPR's fact-checker during the news conference here:

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whitehouse.gov

U.S. presidents often deliver a final speech reflecting on their time in office and to prepare Americans for the future once they leave office.

President Obama speaks from Chicago to deliver his Farewell Address tonight at 8 p.m.

You can follow NPR's fact-checker during the speech here:

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Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Wisconsin could make billions of dollars if the state started charging tolls for drivers to use its interstate highways. That’s according to a recent study.

Vijay Kumar Koulampet, CC BY-SA 3.0 / via Wikimedia Commons

Repeat drunken drivers will face tougher penalties in Wisconsin starting with the new year.

Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in April that makes a fourth drunken driving offense a felony regardless of when it's committed. Currently a fourth offense is a felony only if committed within five years of a third offense.

The law also increases the maximum sentence for fifth and sixth offenses from three years to five. Maximum sentences for seventh, eighth and ninth offenses will increase from five years to seven and a half.

Flickr user Beverly & Pack and Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley / "Taps, Bugle, Army, Military Funeral, Arlington National Cemetery" (CC v 2.0)

Illinois students in grades six through twelve will be able to get excused absences from school for playing Taps at military funerals starting next month. 

Republican Rep. Donald Moffitt says it can be hard for military families to find trumpet players to perform Taps.

“The pool of Taps players isn't real big,” Moffitt said. “If they feel that it would be more meaningful to have a live playing of taps, this definitely would increase the potential of [having] someone available.” 

Flickr user Eric E Castro / "The Tampon Fairy" (CC V 2.0)

Illinois consumers will no longer pay sales taxes on feminine hygiene products starting next year.

State Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake, sponsored the legislation.

“These are products that women need," she said, "and these things were being taxed at luxury tax rates and they shouldn't be taxed at all.”

Bush said she also is concerned that women are being charged more for some products and services than men.

Rockford Public Schools

The time to file petitions to run for office in the upcoming local elections came and went, but no one filed a petition for one Rockford school board seat.

There were no petitions filed in time for those to be listed in the primary elections for the Rockford School Board Subdistrict A seat. That’s according to the Winnebago County Clerk’s office.

However, those who want to file as write-in candidates for the seat for the April 4th election have until the beginning of February to do so. If no one files to run for office, then someone is appointed for the position.

Department of Justice / whitehouse.gov

President Barack Obama has pardoned one Illinois resident and shortened the sentences of seven other Illinoisans convicted of federal crimes.

Rockford Housing Authority

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced a smoking ban in public housing, effective within the next year or so. But what does that mean for nearby communities?

fbi.gov

The executive director of the Illinois Republican Party says the FBI told the state party months before the presidential election that some of its email accounts may have been hacked last year.

Nick Klitzing told the Chicago Tribune Sunday that the FBI raised questions with the state party in June about four inactive or rarely used accounts.

However, the FBI didn't tell the state party the possible hacking was part of a larger federal investigation into alleged Russian activity in the U.S. political system.

Week Of Testimony Begins In Andrew Rifkin Case

Dec 7, 2016
Katie Finlon / WNIJ

Thursday is the first day of several days of testimony in the case against a former Northern Illinois University police officer who was accused of sexual assault.

Court officials anticipate the trial of Andrew Rifkin taking about a week and including about ten witnesses. That includes the alleged victim’s former roommate, a digital forensics expert, and NIU health services personnel, according to court documents.

McCullough Hearing Rescheduled To Late January

Dec 5, 2016
Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Jack McCullough’s hearing for a certificate of innocence was pushed back to next year.

It was supposed to be held Monday. Instead, newly-elected DeKalb County State’s Attorney Rick Amato signed a court document that day,  postponing the court date to the end of January.

Amato didn't immediately return calls from WNIJ regarding his rationale for the decision.

Flickr User Ken Teegardin/Flickr CC by SA 2.0

New projections show nibbling around the edges of state budget problems won't help Illinois.   

The state went for nearly a year and a half without a full budget. But there’s a surprising level of consensus about what must be done if lawmakers and Gov. Bruce Rauner can come to a compromise on the governor’s policy demands and ultimately get down to trying to close the budget gap.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Two Wisconsin lawmakers say they are looking into changing state law to prevent a proposed railroad project from forcing people to sell their land. The Great Lakes Basin Railroad would swing 261 miles through Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin in an attempt to relieve train congestion in the Chicago area.

Wikimedia

The Green County clerk in Wisconsin says working nights and weekends are in his immediate future. That’s due to the ballot recount requested for the state by one presidential nominee.

About 19,000 ballots total were cast in Green County for the general election earlier this month. That’s according to Green County County Clerk Michael Doyle.

“We’ve got, like, 3,000 absentee ballots," Doyle said. "That really makes it very difficult for a recount because all of the ballot envelopes have to be certified and it just takes a lot more time.”

Katie Finlon / WNIJ

The Sycamore Public Library got a new executive director earlier this month, who recently discussed the library’s future with WNIJ.

For four years, Jesse Butz has worked with the Sycamore Public Library, starting as head of adult services. He says he wants to create new working relationships with other community units and improving upon existing relationships, along with developing new programs and maintaining current ones.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Now that a state board says there's no point to Gov. Bruce Rauner resuming negotiations with AFSCME, his administration is beginning to impose new terms on members of state government's biggest labor union. AFSCME, however, wants Rauner to return to the bargaining table. State employees across Illinois rallied for their cause Thursday.

Rockford Housing Authority leaders have a plan they hope will make the city’s public housing a better place for to live.

Officers from the Rockford Police Department patrol the city’s public schools. Now the Rockford Housing Authority wants a similar arrangement for its housing developments.

Like the school district, the housing authority would pay for the program: it would cost around $900,000 a year to hire and equip the seven member police unit.

Illinois is the nation's worst in reclaiming hundreds of millions of dollars in overpaid unemployment benefits, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal statistics.

The state overpaid a lot of unemployment money during the past four years: $714-million. And it only recovered 37% of that money. That’s the worst record in the nation. The national average is 66 percent.

Unemployment overpayments are benefits collected by people who aren’t eligible for them, whether done intentionally or as a result of not understanding the rules once they return to work.

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