Government and Legislature

Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

Illinois lawmakers have approved a $40 billion state budget and a plan to address tax rates for a casino expansion during a whirlwind special session held amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The budget approved early Sunday largely maintains funding from the current budget, which the exception of health care agencies affected by the outbreak. It also relies heavily on federal funding. 

Gov. Pritzker Unveils Five Stage Reopening Plan

May 5, 2020

Governor J.B. Pritzker has released a five-part plan to allow certain regions of the state to open up to more activity. The governor is calling it Restore Illinois.

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Governor J.B. Pritzker says a ruling by a southern Illinois circuit court judge puts more people at risk of getting sick and dying of COVID-19.

A judge in Clay County sided with a Republican state representative who sued over the governor’s emergency powers and the planned extension of the stay-at-home order.

Pritzker says the state will respond quickly to get the ruling overturned.

“At best, no one is better off because of this ruling. At worst, people’s health and safety will suffer tremendously,” said the Governor during his Monday afternoon coronavirus update.

Voters Approve Winnebago County Mental Health Tax

Mar 18, 2020
Connie Kuntz

More than 62% of Winnebago County voters in the March 17 election said "Yes" to a new half-cent sales tax that will fund mental health services throughout the county.

According to Citizens for a Healthy Community, the sales tax will bring in $12-13 million annually. Spokesman Paul Logli said, "I have been serving as a member of the mental health subcomittee -- the local Rockford Regional Health Council -- and this has been a goal of ours for years."

Illinois election officials are working to defend against foreign cyberattacks in this year's elections.

Connie Kuntz

Rockford-area leaders are trying to get the word out about why an accurate count is so important in the 2020 census.

Ivy Hood is the program manager for the 2020 Regional Census Initiative. She said the decennial census needs to be filled out by every single resident.  "This includes anybody experiencing homelessness, students, people who live in housing authorities, people who live here half the year. Everyone needs to be counted."

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker approved a plan Wednesday to pool the pension funds of nearly 650 downstate police and fire departments.

Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Health departments representing nine counties in the northern Illinois/Rockford region released a joint statement regarding vaping.

The statement comes in the wake of injuries sustained by users of electronic cigarettes and vaping products. Spokeswoman Katherine O’Toole with the Winnebago County Health Department says the increasing prevalence of these symptoms prompts caution.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross will not run for election next year. She announced through a news release Thursday that her tenure as State’s Attorney will end in December 2020.

DeKalb Council Tables Appointment Ordinance

Aug 27, 2019
Sarah Jesmer

The City of DeKalb has been in debates over the position of city clerk. They recently held a city council vote that could've changed the job to appointed rather than elected. The council tabled the ordinance (2019-055) that would make the clerk appointed on Monday night. 


Why DeKalb's City Clerk Position Is In Question

Aug 26, 2019
Sarah Jesmer

There’s infighting in DeKalb’s city government. It revolves around the city clerk. What does a city clerk do, how do they do it, and who makes those decisions? Recent unrest took public stage in early June. This isn’t the first time these questions have been debated in DeKalb.  


Sarah Jesmer

Congressman Adam Kinzinger toured parts of his northern Illinois district on Tuesday. 

Tour stops included Rockford and Morris, and regional events for National Night Out, he said.

In DeKalb, Kinzinger and city officials like Mayor Jerry Smith, City Manager Bill Nicklas, and Alderman Carolyn Morris were joined by Northern Illinois University representatives in a bus tour around the city. 


Six new casinos are planned for Illinois. Lawmakers expect hefty tax revenue, but the casinos also raise the risk of problem gambling. 

Recreational Marijuana Is Now Legal In Illinois

Jun 25, 2019

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has signed legislation making Illinois the 11th state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana.

The Democrat signed legislation Tuesday in Chicago allowing residents to purchase and possess up to 1 ounce (30 grams) of marijuana at a time. Non-residents could have up to 15 grams.

Illinois joins 10 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing recreational use. It's been essentially illegal for the past 80 years and since 1970 has been federally banned as a narcotic.

Chase Cavanaugh

A federal prison in Thomson, Illinois is looking to expand its workforce, but they're facing difficulty enticing workers to settle down locally.

Administrative United States Penitentiary, Thomson was built in 2001. It sat empty for years until it was bought by the federal Bureau of Prisons in 2012. The prison has slowly boosted its hiring and operations since 2015. Local residents were optimistic about a new jobs pipeline, and Thomson Village President Vicky Trager says there's solid evidence of new hires.

The Illinois House has sent Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker another victory by voting to legalize recreational marijuana use.

The 66-47 tally Friday would allow those 21 and older to buy marijuana at licensed dispensaries beginning next year. Residents could possess up to one ounce (30 grams) and non-residents could have 15 grams.

Pritzker called for legalization in his campaign for governor. He has pledged to sign the law.


Restrictions on home cultivation have helped marijuana legalization win Illinois Senate approval.

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 38-17 Wednesday to allow recreational use of marijuana like 10 other states. The Illinois proposal allows those 21 and older to have up to one ounce.

Chicago Democratic Sen. Heather Steans originally proposed allowing anyone to keep five plants in their homes. Steans' final version allows only the 65,000 Illinois patients qualified for the medical-cannabis law to grow their own.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller gives a statement from the Department of Justice regarding interference in the 2016 presidential election:


Illinois is still looking for a new state climatologist.

The role is the main point person for all climate information around the state. An example would be comparing snowfall and rain to previous years and seeing how far they deviate from the norm.

Chase Cavanaugh

The Illinois State Police is setting up shop at internship fairs in a search for new officers. This includes an event next week at Northern Illinois University.

ISP has more than 2,000 sworn officers spread across 21 districts. Officers say there isn't a single factor pushing them to recruit new troopers. But they admit that attrition and the two-year budget impasse had an effect on their ranks. Sgt. Hector Alejandre says much of their work takes place on major state roads.

Food Pantries Aid SNAP Recipients

Feb 13, 2019
Northern Illinois Food Bank

President Donald Trump announced recently that the government is temporarily open until the end of this week. Some agencies and services are still feeling the effects of the first shutdown over the holidays.


Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's office has opened an investigation into the management by Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration of a Legionnaire's disease crisis at a state-run veterans' home.

Eileen Boyce is spokeswoman for the Democratic attorney general. She said Wednesday that authorities will review whether laws were broken and whether residents, their families, staff members and the public "were informed in a timely and appropriate manner."

Argonne National Laboratory on Facebook

Lemont’s Argonne National Laboratory and their partner institutions will receive $120 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.  The funding renews the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), a Department of Energy project devoted to battery science and technology led by Argonne.


Congressman Randy Hultgren of northern Illinois is a member of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He says research into energy storage is key in making renewable energy sources more accessible.  


Chase Cavanaugh / WNIJ News

There's federal money on the way to help combat domestic violence in northern Illinois. Members of Congress announced a nearly $450,000 grant for Rockford to establish a Family Justice Center. The facility will serve as a hub for survivors of domestic abuse and their children to get help from law enforcement, social services, and other agencies.  Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara says he’s grateful for the federal help.

Victoria Lunacek/WNIJ

When a city negotiates a new contract for waste haulers, it can lead to a change in services or opportunities to lower costs.

If you live in a decently-sized city, you probably roll your trash cans to the curb once a week, and the garbage gets hauled off. The City of DeKalb recently approved a contract with Lakeshore Recycling as its new garbage hauler.  It takes effect in September, and Public Works Director Tim Holdeman says the move came about when the city’s old contract was up for renewal.

Helene Miller Walsh, the wife of a conservative radio host and former Illinois congressman, will replace a former state lawmaker who resigned after being accused of sharing nude photos of an ex-girlfriend online.

The Chicago Tribune reports Walsh was selected from a pool of about 20 contenders to replace former GOP state Rep. Nick Sauer.

New Laws Digitize Medicaid Applications

Aug 3, 2018
Sarah Jesmer

Governor Bruce Rauner signed two bills Thursday afternoon that will bring changes to the state health system. These bills,  SB 2385 and SB 2913, are expected to make the long-term care application process faster and cheaper. 

Sarah Jesmer

It started with a system glitch in the summer of 2016.

Hackers found a flaw in the online voting registration process in Illinois and exploited it. Illinois State Board of Election’s spokesperson Matt Dietrich said the board’s servers were flooded with queries, which are lines of code.

"A drunk man's gaze" by Flickr User YuMaNuMa / (CC x 2.0)

Wisconsin police can legally draw blood from unconscious drunken drivers without a warrant, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The justices ruled 5-2 that drivers automatically consent to a blood draw when they drive on Wisconsin roads. If drivers drink themselves into unconsciousness, they forfeit any opportunity to withdraw that consent, Chief Justice Patience Roggensack wrote for the majority.

provided by Sara Dorner

People across the nation plan to take to the streets June 30 to protest recent immigration policies that separate families crossing the southwest border of the United States. That includes marches in at least five Illinois cities.

Rockford activist Sara Dorner says she was so angry that children were being separated from their parents at the U.S. border that she contacted the White House, her senators, her representative -- and it still wasn’t enough.