Tom Lisi

Tom reports on statehouse issues for NPR Illinois.  He's currently a Public Affairs Reporting graduate program student at the University of Illinois Springfield.  He graduated from Macalester College.  Tom is from New York City where he also did stand-up and improv and wrote for the Awl and WNYC public radio.

Flickr user / Victor "Handcuffs" (CC BY 2.0)

The Illinois General Assembly has approved legislation intended to make it easier to hold drug dealers accountable when their customers overdose.

After eight years in the Army, Evan Rushing had PTSD. One day last year, he drove to St. Louis to buy heroin. It was a bad batch; he overdosed and died.

Evan’s mother, Janice, said police identified the dealer who sold the drugs. Prosecutors couldn’t charge him with drug-induced homicide though, because Rushing bought the heroin in Missouri.

illinoismansion.org

Illinois First Lady Diana Rauner held a groundbreaking ceremony Friday at the governor’s mansion in Springfield. The Rauners are raising $15 million privately to finance a restoration of the 162-year old building.

 

Beyond long-delayed repairs, the plans call for a small art gallery and an educational exhibit for school children. Diana Rauner said she looks forward to helping out with a new garden.

 

The Illinois General Assembly voted to increase a fee on cell phone bills in order to fund 911 services.  

Negotiators involved with the legislation say Gov. Bruce Rauner tried to pull Republican support because he didn't want to give Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel a victory. But GOP lawmakers voted in favor of the measure, which includes a fee increase in Chicago.

Rep. Chad Hays, R-Caitlin, said that, without the fee increase, 911 services would be on life support.

 

Flickr User Nadbasher/ CC 2.0

Illinois legislators have abandoned a bipartisan effort to increase funding for 911 services. People involved in the negotiations say Gov. Bruce Rauner got Republicans to pull their support.

Dispatchers, phone companies, and local governments had been in agreement that the 911 fee on cell phone bills should be increased to keep the emergency-response service going and to add new technology. They say the cost of keeping the service running is falling increasingly on local governments.

Medical marijuana is still new to Illinois, but some lawmakers are taking a look at expanding its use to help stem the opioid epidemic.

State senators heard from recovering opioid addicts on how marijuana has helped them manage chronic pain from injuries. Ingalore Wood of Auburn said opiates made her angry and reluctant to leave the house. Then she switched to medical marijuana.

The Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Illinois High School Association has no obligation to release internal documents.  

The watchdog Better Government Association wanted to get records from the IHSA (which organizes high school athletic tournaments) on its sponsorship deals with the likes of Gatorade and Nike. To this end, it filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act, which  is supposed to make sure anyone can get documents, memos, and even emails from a government body. However, the court treats IHSA as a private non-profit organization.

A state senator from southern Illinois has been recommended as the next U.S. ambassador to Kenya.

The seven Republicans in the Illinois Congressional delegation sent a letter to President Donald Trump saying State Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Vandalia, would be a good candidate for the job. McCarter has done charity work in the east-African country for decades.

He’d still have to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

Illinois Democrats and senior-citizen groups are challenging Gov. Bruce Rauner’s push to change home health-care services.

With a growing elderly population, Rauner says the state needs more control over how much it pays home health-care workers and what those services include.

Donna Peek is a home health-care aide and member of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). She says Rauner’s plan will upend close relationships between clients and their caregivers.

  Last summer, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a last-minute plan to appropriate state money to public schools. It allowed districts to open on time, but the actual funds for programs such as special education and busing have been slow in coming.

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza is in charge of disbursing the money but says she can't due to lack of cash on hand.

“As of today," she said, "I think our actual cash flow -- our available balance -- might be actually 159 million dollars."

Flick User Chrisitaan Colen/ CC 2.0

The Illinois State Board of Elections says hackers breached the information of up to 80,000 voters last year.

The hackers had access to the system for nearly three weeks before they were detected. They obtained personal information, such as drivers license and social security numbers. Board of Elections IT Director Kevin Turner says there’s no way to know why Illinois was targeted over other states.

"Perhaps they tried other states and weren’t able to get in," Turner says. "They just happened to find the hole in our dike, so to speak."

Hemophilia.org

Illinois Democrats want to stop Gov. Bruce Rauner from further changing the way the state manages Medicaid, one of its most expensive programs.

State Sen. Dave Koehler of Peoria previously supported allowing outside companies and hospitals to run portions of the healthcare system for low-income people. But he says the companies are falling short, and the governor's proposal would increase their reach.

Flickr User That Guy DouG/CC 2.0

Illinois House Democrats passed legislation Wednesday that would compel state agencies to buy more American-made products.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, said the proposal he sponsored aligns with President Donald Trump’s focus on American manufacturing.

“I could just reference your president’s executive order regarding ‘Buy American,’ " he said. "This is saying our state taxpayer dollars should put our people to work and we should use the buying power of our state to create jobs and economic opportunity.”

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

Some groups are bracing for the problems of a future Illinois state budget that doesn’t raise taxes high enough or cuts spending.

"smoke detector (05-04-08)" by Flickr User Katy Warner / (CC X 2.0)

New legislation would require Illinois residents to replace their smoke detectors.

Newer models can be temporarily silenced without removing the battery, so homeowners don't have to take them down when they burn their popcorn.Springfield Fire Marshal Chris Richmond says non-functioning smoke detectors are found at the scene of many fire deaths.

“Here in Springfield just on February 13th, we had a three-year-old die in an apartment fire. That apartment did not have functioning smoke alarms. Tragic situation, tough on my personnel, tough on the entire community.”

Wikimedia Commons

Milkweed could become the Illinois state wildflower under legislation pending in the General Assembly. 

Vanessa Tyler is a Girl Scout who attends Pleasant Plains Middle School, near Springfield. She and her troop lobbied lawmakers to support the proposed state designation. She says it’ll help people think twice about killing milkweed.

"Money" By Flickr User Pictures of Money / (CC BY 2.0)

A new proposal from Illinois Democrats would raise the state’s minimum wage from the current $8.25 to 15 dollars per hour over five years.

Illinois voters in 2014 overwhelmingly approved raising the state’s minimum wage to ten dollars an hour. Lawmakers never followed through on that referendum.

Representative Jeanne Ives is a Republican from Wheaton. She says the move to a $15 wage in Seattle has cut the number of hours workers get there.

FLICKR/ VOX EFX

Some Illinois voters found out last fall that it's illegal to take a selfie with their ballot.  

Lawmakers are trying to change that, and are inspired by what they characterize as young people wanting to share the fulfillment of their civic duty on social media.

Amanda Sunley is a sophomore at New Berlin High School. She says she probably wouldn’t take a selfie at the voting booth.

“I just think it’s like your own business like when you’re voting, and you shouldn’t take pictures and talk about it as soon as you vote."

 

The Illinois Senate passed legislation that would block a plan to privatize more than 120 nursing jobs in state prisons.

Governor Bruce Rauner says his plan would save 8 million dollars per year. Private companies, in his view, can do the same work for cheaper. However, Democrats say that’s because private companies don’t pay their workers well. Four Republican senators, including Sam McCann from Plainview, agreed.

“Why can’t we be for working people?" he said. "Why would we let these nurses go, then hire them back the next day...for less.”

Illinois lawmakers are working on legislation intended to help youth programs struggling under the state budget impasse.

frontierleague.com

Minor league baseball players are suing Major League Baseball, claiming unfair pay. But a new proposal in Illinois would protect independent leagues from a similar lawsuit. 

The state’s minimum wage law applies to most workers, but there are a few exceptions: farm hands, children of small business owners, and outdoor salesmen to name a few.

BRIAN MACKEY / NPR ILLINOIS

Immigrant and refugee groups are calling for a long list of new state laws — from limiting cooperation with federal immigration agents to raising the minimum wage.

They rallied Wednesday in the Statehouse.

Sanjin Ibrahimovic was born in post-war Bosnia. He says the war pushed his parents from hospital administrators, to subsistence farmers, to refugees in Chicago.

A refugee himself, Ibrahimovic is a now a computer science major in college. He says he’s worried newer immigrants and refugees don’t have the same chance he did.

"Wheelchair" by Flickr User zeevveez / (CC X 2.0)

Governor Bruce Rauner’s new rules restricting overtime pay for home health aides cleared the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules on Tuesday. Starting Aug. 1, caretakers will be limited to a 45 hour work week.

KL Cleeton runs a video production company from his parents’ home in Effingham. His parents work for him, but not to grab coffee at his film shoots.

“Because my disability is so severe, I require 24-hour assistance. If I have an itch, I can’t scratch it. So this is very much my choice,” he said.

Before Mary Rabbe died from complications related to Alzheimer’s in 2015, she moved between several different long-term care facilities in the Springfield area — five nursing homes, a 10-day stay at a hospital psychiatric ward, and three visits to the E.R. — all in less than three years.

 

State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Chicago, says he was pulled over in Kankakee on Election Day for blaring a recorded get-out-the-vote message by then-President Obama from his car.

Welch brought up the traffic stop at a House hearing on the Illinois voting process. Kankakee police confirm they did interact with Welch on Election Day, but wouldn’t go into specifics. Welch, an attorney, says he was in Kankakee to monitor early voting.

Northwestern University's Pritzker School of Law

A 1917 report conducted on the Illinois pension system revealed bad news. After a pension-focused trip around the globe, with studies on such nations as Great Britain, New Zealand, and Austro-Hungary, it got to the crux of the matter:

 

A group of retired military generals is the latest to come out against an element of the Illinois Senate's "grand bargain" legislation. Their focus is a measure that would cut the state’s mandate of daily physical education to just three times a week.