Sean Crawford

Chatham

Community Advisory Board, Ex-Officio

Sean has led the NPR Illinois news operations since the fall of 2009. He replaced the only other person to do so in the station's history, Rich Bradley. Prior to taking over the News Department, Sean worked as Statehouse Bureau Chief for NPR Illinois and other Illinois Public Radio stations. He spent more than a dozen years on the capitol beat.

Sean  began his broadcasting career at his hometown station in Herrin, Illinois while still in high school.  It was there he learned to cover local government, courts and anything else that made the news.  He spent time in the Joliet area as News Director and Operations Manager for a radio station and worked for a chain of weekly newspapers for two years.  Along with news coverage, he reported heavily on sports and did on-air play by play. 

Sean holds a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield. 

Flickr user Michael Chen "Pills" (CC BY 2.0) bit.ly/1RgH2Na

An Illinois law that takes effect January first guarantees contraceptive coverage free of co-pays.

The federal Affordable Care Act already provides for that, but some insurers have managed to skirt requirements and have not covered all methods of birth control, according to Representative Elaine Nekritz. 

The Northbrook Democrat sponsored that law the Governor signed over the summer.

“The legislation would also allow and in fact require that a woman could get 12 months of contraception in one visit to the pharmacy,” Nekritz said.

J.B. Pritzker is rumored to be considering a Democratic run for Illinois governor. 

He’s heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, and it appears the GOP is taking him seriously. They recently issued a robocall attempting to link Pritzker with imprisoned former governor Rod Blagojevich. 

Rick Pearson is a political reporter for the Chicago Tribune. He says optimism of ending the 18-month budget impasse may inspire candidates like Pritzker to run for governor.

"Texting while Driving" By Flickr User Intel Free Press / (CC X 2.0)

A survey of teen drivers shows there's still plenty of work to do to get them to pay more attention on the road.

State Farm Insurance questioned drivers between 16 and 19 years old and found that 80 percent say they use their smartphones while driving. Missy Dundov, with the company, says there is more technology competing for the driver's focus. 

"Distracted driving is nothing new, but the level of it has changed," she said. "The electronics people have in their car ... Maybe it's not their phone. Even if they have a Bluetooth -- that can be distracting."

The Brown Marmorated Stink Bug.  Not a very pretty name.  But it's becoming more likely you'll be seeing this invasive species around your home.  They are showing up in more parts of Illinois.  And, that's raising concerns.  

www.shakeout.org

The U.S. Geological Survey places Illinois at a high risk for a major quake in the next 50 years. Portions of the state are in the New Madrid and Wabash Valley Seismic Zones.

An international earthquake drill is scheduled this Thursday to get people ready in case "the big one" strikes.

The Great ShakeOut will stress the action "Drop, Cover, And Hold On" to help avoid injuries from falling items and debris. 

Patti Thompson, with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, admits people don't always think about earthquake preparedness.

  Illinois wind farms will bring more than 6 billion dollars to the state economy over their lifespan.  That’s according to a new study by Illinois State University.  Researchers factored in property taxes, jobs, and payment to land owners.  David Loomis, Director of the Center for Renewable Energy, says jobs are particularly affected.  

"During the construction phase, there's a lot of activity and people get employed.  There are about 2,500 jobs that are supported during that construction phase.  And about 226 long term jobs coming during operational phase," he says.   

"Garden" By HomeSpot HQ / (CC X 2.0)

A plan sitting on the Illinois governor's desk could protect gardeners and some of the places they get seeds.

Seed libraries and seed swaps have become more popular as a way for gardeners to share. However, in some other states, regulations can effectively shut them down. 

Those consumer protections are primarily meant for commercial seed sellers and can require expensive testing to make sure the product is what it claims to be.

Studies show prisoners who stay connected with their families have lower recidivism.  Yet, the cost of keeping in touch is proving quite high for many.  Prison phone call rates are unregulated.

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

An attempt to add a surtax on Illinois millionaires failed in the Illinois House today.

House Speaker and Democrat Michael Madigan has backed the idea that would raise more money for schools. 

Illinois now has a flat tax on everyone. Madigan wants a 3-percent additional tax added on income above one million dollars. 

Voters went along with a statewide advisory referendum on the issue in 2014.

Madigan: "It's time to listen to their voice, not the voice of the 1-percenters."

wiu.edu

As some colleges and universities head toward a fiscal cliff, lawmakers are talking about ways to keep them afloat. 

One plan would only fund five schools. State Rep. Rita Mayfield, a Waukegan Democrat, says money would go to Chicago State University, Western Illinois University, Eastern Illinois University, Northeastern Illinois University, and Southern Illinois University. 

She says those are the schools most at risk of shutting down. 

Springfield-area State Senator Sam McCann, R-Plainview, fended off a challenge Tuesday from fellow Republican Bryce Benton. McCann had been targeted for defeat after defying Gov. Bruce Rauner, also a Republican, on a key vote.

Illinois.gov

Former Illinois Senate President Phil Rock has died at the age of 78.

The Democrat from Oak Park served 14 years in charge of the Senate, the longest tenure in the chamber's history.  He left in 1993. 

In recent years, Rock published his autobiography "Nobody Calls Just To Say Hello."  In an interview with the Illinois Channel, he explained that title.

www.staterepevans33.com

The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus plans to organize students to demonstrate over the holiday break if an agreement to end the budget impasse is not reached.

The protest subject will be MAP grants for lower-income students, which have not been funded this fiscal year because of the lack of a spending plan.

Senator Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, is the chairwoman of the caucus. 

More people died from drug overdoses in the United States in 2014 than during any previous year on record. The numbers have doubled in just the past 15 years.   

US CPSC

Illinois will soon become just the fourth state to require carbon-monoxide detectors in schools.

    

The law taking effect at the start of the year follows an incident that occurred in Macoupin County in central Illinois where about 150 students and staff members became ill at school. 

Many had to be hospitalized due to a furnace leak in 2014. 

No detectors were in place at the time, although they have since been installed. 

That happened in state Sen. Andy Manar's district. 

AFSCME

The state's largest public employee union remains at odds with Governor Bruce Rauner's administration on a new contract.  

Negotiators for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees have been meeting with the governor's staff about twice a month since the summer. But AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall says there's been little movement toward a deal.  

"It shouldn't take this long. And this cloud of uncertainty shouldn't continue to hang over the heads of the men and women who serve our community every day," Lindall said.

Flickr user Brandon Blahnik / "House" (CC V 2.0)

Home prices are on the rise in Illinois.

The statewide median price of a home was up over 6 percent in October to 168-thousand dollars. But overall sales were down amid tighter inventory. 

The number of homes listed was down 10 percent compared to the same time last year.   

That means it's a good time to be a seller.  Homes are staying on the market fewer days … 68 now compared to 74 a year ago.

While the holidays tend to always see a decline in homes being offered, the state's realtors say the drop off in October was especially steep.

Brian Mackey / Illinois Public Radio

The lack of an Illinois budget means public pension systems won't get their state contribution next month. That won't stop retirees from getting their checks.

However, there could still be an impact.

The funds get money from members, the state and in the case of the Teachers Retirement System, school districts.

Dave Urbanek is the TRS spokesman. He says another key is investment income. But some of those investments, like stocks and bonds, might have to be liquidated in order to send out future checks.

State of Illinois

The Illinois budget gridlock continues four months into the fiscal year. Downstate Republicans are finding themselves having to balance support for the Governor with constituent concerns.

One of those lawmakers is C.D. Davidsmeyer. He says he has his theories of when the General Assembly will negotiate a state budget.

Davidsmeyer says that would likely mean it will be worked out in December at the very earliest. He says little is happening that oculd move the situation toward compromise.

Katherine Johnson / Flicker

The Illinois State Fair ended in August.  But many who worked there are still owed money. 

 The annual Springfield summertime event  is a celebration of agriculture and more.  But this year, the state warned vendors they might have to wait to get paid.  Turns out, that wasn't an idle threat.  Tim Landis is a reporter for the State Journal-Register newspaper, which tallied up the outstanding bills.  Among them, paying the sculptor of the fair's most well known symbol: 

Heartland Alliance

The Illinois poverty rate hovers above pre-recession levels at about 14 percent, according to Census numbers released Thursday.

Meanwhile, income in Illinois is stagnant, according to numbers crunched by the Chicago-based Heartland Alliance. 

This is likely a consequence of the state's budget woes, says Kimberly Drew, an economic security specialist at the alliance.

“Many of our anti-poverty programs are essentially imploding because they are not receiving funding,” Drew said. “And this has very real consequences in people's lives."

A panel of lawmakers will weigh in Wednesday on the planned closure of two state facilities.  But the final decision rests with the governor. 

You may be asking: How did Illinois get to this point?

Illinois is likely to enter August without a full-year budget for Fiscal Year 2016, which began July 1. The longer the impasse continues, the more the impact will be felt. 

Most Illinois residents may be busy with their summer and less focused on the state budget, since schools are expected to open on time. State workers also are getting paid.

Republican State Rep. Tim Butler says the ongoing fiscal fight will boil over in more ways:

WUIS

Illinois could join a handful of states that allow cameras to be installed in the rooms of nursing home residents. 

Supporters say it would give families peace of mind to have electronic monitoring of the care their loved ones receive. But there are also concerns, especially when it comes to privacy.

"Nursing homes, a lot of people tend to forget ... that is their home," Hinsdale Republican Representative Patti Bellock said.

Supporters say the cameras would only be installed when the resident or family agrees. They would also have to cover the cost. 

Illinois Department of Corrections

DNA helped exonerate more than 300 people in the U.S. Among the most recent was Christopher Abernathy, who was freed last week from a northern Illinois prison. He served almost 30 years for rape and murder. 

The Illinois Innocence Project, based at the U of I Springfield, provided DNA testing in that case. Its founder, Larry Golden, says he's seen a change in how people view the justice system and its mistakes in the past two decades.

Illinois is reporting widespread flu activity earlier than most years.  Widespread means the flu is showing up statewide.  Illinois tracks people hospitalized for the flu. That number is above 200 with nearly half the cases in the week that ended December 13th. 

Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography / "Fizzy Purple Grape Soda" (CC v. 2.0)

Another attempt to tax sugary drinks is expected in the upcoming Illinois legislative session. Drinks like soda and even some juice have been linked to obesity, diabetes and other problems. 

Elissa Bassler, with the Illinois Public Health Institute, says a plan that came up in the past year would have imposed a penny per ounce tax on the drinks.  She says the new measure will be similar:

"It's a big idea and it takes some time for people to wrap their arms around it."

WNIJ

You might notice roads and bridges in need of repair as you drive around this holiday weekend. But revenue from a key funding source, the gas tax, has been declining.  It's charged per gallon of gas purchased. U of I professor Don Fullerton says it was created on a simple concept:

"The more you drive, the more gas you use.  The more you ought to have to pay for the road. It's sort of a benefit principle of taxation."

Improved mileage in vehicles means less gas is being used. Fullerton says change is needed to keep up with demand:

Agricultural runoff is a problem in Illinois and many other farm states.  Nitrogen, phosphorous and chemicals help with yields, but too much winds up in the water supply.   That creates problems like algae growth that robs the water of oxygen, killing off aquatic life. 

Jean Payne represents fertilizer and chemical dealers in the state.  She says a training program will launch this winter in an effort to get farmers better educated on how to apply nutrients to their crops, including the best time for application and proper amounts. 

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