Government

Government and Legislature

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Rockford’s mayor wants to expand the system his city used to end homelessness among veterans. Larry Morrissey delivered his 11th annual State of the City address Wednesday night. He says it means identifying the city’s toughest challenges, focusing the right people on solutions, and tracking results. Morrissey calls it "collective impact" and would like to tackle the problem of child abuse using the same technique.

eEgin police department

Rockford's Board of Fire and Police Commissioners announced their pick Thursday for the city's next police chief: Dan O'Shea of the Elgin Police Department.

O'Shea is Elgin's Police Operations Bureau Commander. He beat out Rockford Assistant Deputy Chief Doug Pann for the position. A third finalist dropped out earlier this week after he was offered a contract extension at his current position in Racine, Wisconsin.

Rockford Police Department

One of three men in the running to become Rockford’s next police chief has dropped out.

Racine, Wisconsin Chief Art Howell was given a contract extension to keep him in his current position.

The two remaining candidates are Rockford Assistant deputy chief Doug Pann and Dan O’Shea of the Elgin Police Department. They met with the public Tuesday at a forum in Rockford.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

A massive hospital expansion can move forward after Rockford City Council approved it last night.

Aldermen voted 12 to 1 in favor of MercyRockford Health System’s $485-million project. The campus will be located on the city’s far northeast side and focus on health care for women and children. It’s in addition to MercyRockford’s west side campus, which some fear will be abandoned in the expansion.

Brian Mackey/Illinois Public Radio

Illinois's overdue bills are 16 percent higher than previously reported. They could top ten billion dollars by end of the fiscal year.

   

 

Chicago Eliminates 'Tampon Tax'

Mar 16, 2016
Flickr user Eric E Castro / "The Tampon Fairy" (CC V 2.0)

The Chicago City Council eliminated a city sales tax on feminine hygiene projects this week.

The vote followed a recommendation by the City Council’s finance committee last week, which was made without opposition.

The items are taxed at 10 and a quarter percent in Chicago.

The vote will remove Chicago’s portion of the tax, which is about 1 and a quarter percent. It will still include state and Cook County sales tax.

As a result of the vote, tampons and sanitary napkins are now characterized as medical necessities so they can be exempted.

Follow Your Money: State Offers Status Of Tax Returns

Mar 14, 2016
state of Illinois

Illinois’ Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger is encouraging taxpayers to register for the Tax Refund Alert System. The system is set up so users may track the status of their 2015 refund and see when the Comptroller’s Office has processed their tax return.

Finalists in the search for a new Rockford Police Chief will be announced early next week, according to the Rockford Board of Fire and Police Commissioners.

The new chief will fill the position left vacant by Chet Epperson, who retired last November.

With the help of search firm IOS Solutions, the board is winnowing the 26 qualified applicants. The board is scheduled to review applications and select three or four finalists at its meeting next Monday. 

Brian Mackey / Illinois Public Radio

It’s been 10 months since the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s last attempt at a pension overhaul. Legislators have yet to decide what to do about Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation pension debt, but they are beginning to weigh their options.

One set of proposals would let employees collect their pension as a single payment when they retire.

A new measure would force people to get state IDs when they’re released from the Illinois Department of Corrections.

It took Deangelo Hampton two months to get an ID after he was released from prison.

“They talking about you can use your jail stuff to get state IDs, that’s just a lie,” Hampton said. “We went through a lot.”

The state doesn’t allow prisoners to use their release papers to prove their identity. Many former prisoners don’t have their birth certificate or social security card.

Todd Ryburn / CC by 2.0

Bobcat hunting season starts this November in most of Illinois, but rules are still being worked out. The deadline for public comment is Monday, March 7. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources is closing the 45-day comment period.

state of Illinois

The Illinois House passed legislation Thursday to pay nearly $4 billion for higher education and social services -- but without new revenue to back it up. 

Democrats like House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Democrat from Chicago, cast the package as a compromise with Gov. Bruce Rauner. It allows him to avoid repaying money taken from special state funds, a notion Rauner has endorsed.

"It's not the best idea since sliced bread," Currie said, "but it is the governor's idea, and I'm willing to give him the courtesy of a yes vote."

Illinois Lottery

A pilot program allowing the Illinois Lottery to sell tickets online will expire before the end of the month.

There's no time for lawmakers to keep the program alive before then. The House adjourned until April.

Republican Rep. Ed Sullivan from Lake County sponsored a measure to make the pilot program permanent.

"Because it's a process that has done well," Sullivan said, "and it's done well for bringing money into our schools."

But Democrats prevented it from advancing.

AFSCME

Illinois Democrats approved legislation Thursday to require arbitration for union contract disputes.

The state's biggest public employee union -- The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME -- supports changing the process.

Contract negotiations between AFSCME and Gov. Bruce Rauner's office have stalled. Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, says the legislation would help both sides get a deal done.  

A police group says the lack of a state budget is making Illinois a more dangerous place to live.

Rauner touted proposals that would begin to inch toward his goal of reducing Illinois’ prison population by 25 percent over the next decade. But elsewhere in the Capitol, law enforcement officials warned that the lack of a state budget means crime prevention programs are shutting down.

“I am upset at the governor," Tom Weitzel, the police chief in Riverside, said.

Flickr user Matt A.J. / "Marco Rubio" (CC V 2.0)

The divide between Republicans about who their presidential nominee should be is playing out in harsh tones ahead of the Illinois primary.

Dan Duffy is a state senator from Chicago’s northwest suburbs. He’s an Illinois delegate for Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Duffy says he’s tried to get Donald Trump supporters in Illinois to switch to his candidate.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Students at Rockford’s Guilford High School showed off their latest high-tech projects to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner today.

Rauner stopped by the school to talk about education funding and to check out their innovative engineering-track programs. He pledged to increase K through 12 funding and reduce state mandates on schools.

The Republican governor also clued the students in on the partisan battles that were blocking progress on a state budget.

Sarah Mueller / Illinois Public Radio

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association and its 300 members -- which include ESPN and Yahoo -- are backing legislation that would make daily fantasy games legal in Illinois. It would also characterize the contests as games of skill.

Peter Schoenke, the association's chairman, said more than two million Illinois residents play the games for free and for cash prizes. He said studies show that there's more involved to winning than just leaving it up to fate.

Illinois State Museum / state of Illinois

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner appointed three new members of the Illinois State Museum board last week.

The three new board members are Donna Sack of Naperville, Brian Anderson of Rochester and Roger Taylor of Galesburg, according to a news release.

Sack has almost 30 years of museum and association management experience and is executive director of the Association of Midwest Museums.  

You can vote, join the military and buy cigarettes at the age of 18 -- for now. 

The legal age to smoke in Illinois would increase from 18 to 21 under legislation introduced in Springfield.

"If we can guide them through these late teens and into their 20s without a nicotine addiction, it's more likely they will never become tobacco users," said Dr. Ronald Johnson, a physician in Pittsfield.

Johnson says Illinois public college campuses already are smoke-free.

Illinois Board of Higher Education

The budget that Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed this week recommends a 16 percent cut to higher education. This year's proposed cut sounds gentler than the 32 percent reduction Rauner recommended last year. But instead of being spread across higher education, virtually all of the pain would fall upon the state's universities. 

These proposed reductions come after higher education has gone without state funding of any kind for more than seven months.

Planned Parenthood

Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker has signed legislation that would cut millions of taxpayer dollars for Planned Parenthood in Wisconsin.  

Walker signed the two bills Thursday at Life's Connection, a clinic in Waukesha that counsels in abortion alternatives.  

One bill restricts how much Planned Parenthood can be reimbursed for prescription drugs. The change is estimated to cost the agency about $4.5 million annually.  

Wisconsin Man Allowed To Wear Colander In License Picture

Feb 18, 2016
wikipedia.org

A Madison man has won his fight to wear a pasta strainer on his head for his driver's license photo.

The state wasn't too keen about Michael Schumacher's desire to wear the colander on his head for the photo. Schumacher got an attorney involved and the state granted his request, but told him to tip the strainer back so his full face could be seen.

"Drone and Moon" by Don McCullough / CC by 2.0

The crime of smuggling contraband to prisoners has progressed beyond the old “file in a cake” trick. Illinois lawmakers are looking into preventing prison deliveries by drones.

 

Who will replace Justice Antonin Scalia is a campaign issue, as evidenced by Saturday’s Republican debate. The GOP presidential candidates agreed the Senate should not confirm President Obama's nominee, whoever it is.

The President has the Constitutional duty to name a successor to the late Supreme Court Associate Justice.

Bill Whittiker / CC by 2.0

Governor Bruce Rauner's administration says it will close the youth correctional facility in Kewanee.

Juvenile Justice Director Candice Jones says closing the facility, which opened in 2001, will save money, improve rehabilitation of young offenders, and improve community safety. She did not say how much money shuttering the center would save or how those savings would be used.

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

DeKalb-area education leaders, students, and service providers held a rally Thursday at Northern Illinois University to send a

   message to state lawmakers: end the budget impasse.

There were no organized chants, no waving signs -- but there IS a social media hashtag: #RallyForIL

Students from NIU and Kishwaukee College were among the community members who spoke up about how the lack of a state budget hurts them, especially the hold on MAP grants, which help pay for their schooling.

Barack Obama/flickr

The fate of Illinois' budget impasse could be influenced by the leader of the free world. At least, that's what Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder is hoping for.

The state owes the city of Springfield more than $7 million in unpaid utility bills because there's no state budget. Langfelder says he hopes President Barack Obama's speech to state lawmakers Wednesday will help forge a budget compromise.

Greg Younger / cc by 2.0

 

Wisconsin’s governor has signed a bill legalizing concealed switchblades and knives. Scott Walker signed the measure Saturday at an annual National Rifle Association gathering in Wisconsin.  Walker says Wisconsin citizens have the fundamental right to defend themselves. 

Manufacturing, selling, transporting, purchasing, or possessing a switchblade has been illegal in Wisconsin for decades. The Republican bill eliminates that prohibition as well as permits anyone who can legally possess a gun to carry concealed knives of any length without a concealed carry license. 

Susan Stephens / WNIJ

Three teens were arrested in Rockford this weekend, suspected of stealing cars and using them during recent crime sprees.

Rockford Assistant Deputy Police Chief Doug Pann says juvenile crime was the major factor in a big increase in violent crime in the city last year.

“We’ve got some groups we know are engaging in the robberies and auto thefts. It’s all tied together," he said. "We’ve been working on this for several months now, identifying them and getting them off the street. And we will continue to do that until it stops.”

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