Illinois

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A failed special session that was supposed to lead to the passage of pension reform has pushed Illinois closer to a downgrade of its credit rating.

Gov. Pat Quinn ordered lawmakers back to Springfield last Friday to deal with the state's massively underfunded pension systems, but the chambers could not agree on a deal.

(via Flickr/ChrisEaves.com)

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed legislation that extends the life span of a popular economic development tool in the state.

ollesvensson / Flickr

With hotter-than-usual temperatures, orchards in southern Illinois are reporting their apple crops are weeks ahead of schedule.

Tom Range of Braeutigam Orchards in Belleville says they picked Gala apples last week. Normally they pick them in the middle of August.

Another surprise this year - the sugar content of the fruit is very high, making for sweeter fruit.

Sherry Chase of Mills Apple Farm in Marine explains that the apples "tend to be sweeter because the sugars are more concentrated."

Illinois is getting tougher on those involved in human trafficking and forcing the vulnerable into prostitution.
 
 Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law Saturday that strengthens the ability of prosecutors to target those behind what he called "a tragic trade."
 
The measure also offers greater protection to the victims, who are often from vulnerable groups like runaways, abused children and immigrants.

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People who serve on juries in Illinois are now required to accept small payments for their time, but that's about to change.
 
Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Friday that gives jurors the option of refusing the money if they don't need it. The law takes effect in January.
 
Current law requires counties to pay jurors from $4 a day to $17.20. They can also get money for mileage and child care.
 

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Dry conditions are expected to get worse in the coming days, and it will take a whole lot more than scattered thunderstorms to break the drought. 

“We’re way, way, way below normal in rainfall,” National Weather Service Meteorologist Fred Glass said.  “Most of the area is in severe drought conditions, it’s going to quite a bit of rain to make that up, probably in many areas 8-12 inches, and in some areas in excess of 12 inches.”

KellyB. | Flickr

The Illinois Department of Employment Security says it has started checking the roll of people receiving unemployment benefits for those who might be ineligible because they're in jail.
 
Spokesman Greg Rivara says the department found 420 people receiving benefits who were behind bars sometime during the first two weeks of the review. Now the department will check to see if they might have been only briefly locked up and were still eligible or if they really weren't available to work. Availability to work is a key part of the criteria to determine unemployment eligibility.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says he won't sign a gambling expansion bill in exchange for a promise that legislators will pass an ethics measure in the fall.
 
Quinn made the comment Monday at a ceremony during which he signed a measure into law that expands a tax credit program for businesses that hire veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
 
The Legislature passed a bill earlier this year that would create five new casinos - a land-based site in Chicago and four more on riverboats.
 

(via Wikimedia Commons/J. Pelkonen)

A new Illinois law is supposed to make it harder for fugitives to give authorities the slip.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation Thursday that's designed to close a loophole in the state's criminal code that effectively exempts relatives from punishment if they aid a family member on the lam.

But the new law makes it a felony for immediate family members to help fugitives avoid arrest. A conviction could result in a maximum three-year prison sentence and a $25,000 fine.

Illinois officials say Gov. Pat Quinn has decided three state facilities helping former prison inmates transition into society will remain open, a reversal of plans to close them because of budget constraints.
 
Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Stacey Solano said Monday the governor plans to keep the Fox Valley Adult Transition Center open. Kelly Kraft of Quinn's budget office also said the Peoria and Chicago's North Lawndale adult transition centers were also saved.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a state budget that cuts millions of dollars in school funding and public safety spending.

In one key change to the spending blueprint adopted by the General Assembly in May, Quinn vetoed financing for prisons he wants to close.
 
He announced plans Saturday to try to redirect those funds to the state agency charged with caring for neglected and abused children.

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Now, no one in Illinois can stop firefighters or police officers from collecting charitable donations on roads - even if they wanted to.

Under a new Illinois law, public safety officials can't be denied permits to collect money for charities from drivers along roadsides. Gov. Pat Quinn signed the law Friday and it takes effect immediately.

The governor's office says Illinois is the sixth state to adopt such a law. The others are Florida, Nebraska, Texas, California and North Carolina.

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Updated 5:04 p.m. with more details.

The tiny riverfront community of Grafton, Ill. has announced plans to build a plant to process Asian carp culled from the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.

The plant represents a $5.4 million joint venture between American Heartland Fish in Grafton, Falcon Protein, based in Alabama, and Wuhan Hui Chang Real Estate, a Chinese investment group.

Grafton Mayor Tom Thompson says the new plant will provide a welcome influx of good paying jobs.

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Illinois hospitals would be required to provide free care to some low-income people under a bill passed by the Legislature and headed to the governor's desk.

Urban hospitals would have to provide free treatment to patients with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.

That's about $46,000 for a family of four.

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Updated 5:25 a.m. Friday with final vote information. Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Brian Mackey was used in this story.

Just before 7 p.m. Thursday, the Illinois Senate approved the cuts by a vote of 44-13.

African-American lawmakers continued their opposition to the cuts, saying they fall disproportionately on their constituents.

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A federal court in Chicago has granted a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of Illinois' controversial eavesdropping law.

(Read the full ruling here)

The law makes it a felony to make an audio recording of a conversation unless all parties agree and sets out a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison. With the NATO summit coming to Chicago this month, activists had feared protesters and bloggers could run afoul of the law if they used smartphones or video cameras to record police responding to protests.

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Mo. House, Senate push for elimination of Sue Shear Institute

The Missouri House has approved legislation that would strip state funding from an institute that trains women for careers in politics.

The Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life is located at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and bills itself non-partisan. Its detractors, however, argue the Institute caters to Democrats - a characterization that Springfield Democrat Sara Lampe strongly disputes.

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Mo. General Assembly sends probation and parole reforms to Gov. Nixon

The Missouri General Assembly has sent Gov. Jay Nixon a measure that could reduce the amount of time some non-violent felons in the state spend on probation and parole.

The state Senate approved the measure yesterday 24-3, shortly after the state House did the same thing without opposition.

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Updated at 6:15 am Wednesday. Reporting from Amanda Vinicky in Springfield and Jacob McCleland in Cape Girardeau was used in this report.

An Illinois legislative commission has signaled its opposition to Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to close two prisons and a state center for people with developmental disabilities.

A huge backlog of unpaid bills continues to plague Illinois state government.

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka reported Monday that her office ended March with more than $5.5 billion in bills the state couldn't afford to pay. State agencies had their own stacks of bills, so Topinka believes the total backlog was more than $9 billion.

She says Illinois is basically treading water financially. The state is taking in more money from a recent income tax increase, but that is offset by less federal aid and increased pension costs.

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Illinois lawmakers say a cigarette tax increase is on the table as a bipartisan committee strains to find $2.7 billion in cuts to the Illinois Medicaid program.

Two Republicans and two Democrats are charged with finding a deal. But they're confronting fundamental differences, including disagreement on the cigarette tax.

Democratic Sen. Heather Steans says Gov. Pat Quinn's administration floated a proposal that included $1.3 billion in cuts to Medicaid program spending, a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax and rate cuts to health care providers.

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Last week's record Mega Millions drawing made a winner of Illinois schools, too.

WBBM Radio reports that record Illinois lottery sales in the past nine weeks pumped $31.5 million into the fund devoted to public schools.

Lottery officials say that's mostly because of the multistate Mega Millions game that reached an all-time high $656 million before producing three main winners in a drawing Friday.

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March’s average temperature in St. Louis this year is almost 15 degrees above normal. If the forecast holds true tomorrow, St. Louis’s unusually high temperatures will make this the warmest March on record.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Mark Britt says the average temperature this month will be almost 61 degrees.

“The previous record of 1910 was only about 57.5 so that’s a considerable breaking of the record,” he said.  

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Updated at 1:55 to correct spelling of judge's name.

A second judge in Illinois has struck down a state law that requires all parties to consent before a conversation can be recorded.

The law in question makes it a felony to record without everyone's permission. Even recording public officials in public places can be illegal.

Cook County Judge Stanley Sacks ruled today that the law was unconstitutional because it could criminalize "wholly innocent conduct."

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An adviser to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says lawmakers would have to choose everything on a list of possible Medicaid cuts to get to the $2.7 billion proposed by the governor.

Among the options on a list prepared by Quinn's administration is a 9 percent reduction in payments to hospitals, doctors and pharmacies.

The list includes changing eligibility rules for nursing homes and at-home help so that some incontinent elderly people who can't prepare their own meals would be denied state-financed care.

(photo via Facebook/State Rep. Bob Flider)

Reporting from Jim Meadows was used in this story.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has named a former Democratic state representative from central Illinois to be the state's new Director of Agriculture.

If he's confirmed by the state Senate, Bob Flider will take over at a department that hasn't had a permanent director since October.

(via Flickr/ChrisEaves.com)

Gov. Pat Quinn says his State of the State address will include a proposal for tax relief for Illinois families.

The Democrat gives his speech Wednesday in Springfield. He says he'll focus on talking about jobs and economic growth. Quinn says those are the issues foremost on people's minds.

During an appearance in Chicago on Tuesday, Quinn declined to give details of any of his proposals until Wednesday.

A spokeswoman says Quinn is expected to lay out an agenda that'll include several proposals.

Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Amanda Vinicky was used in this story.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will endorse legislation in his State of the State address next week that would raise Illinois' high school dropout age to 18, according to a statement from the Democrat's office.

The proposal would answer a call from fellow Democrat Barack Obama, who in his State of the Union address on Tuesday urged states to keep students in high school long enough for them to get their diploma.

(St. Louis Public Radio)

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed suit against ratings agency Standard and Poor's for fraudulently assigning high ratings to mortgage-backed investments despite their risk.

The suit filed today in Cook County - the state's largest - argues that instead of independently evaluating mortgage-backed securities, S&P gave them higher ratings than warranted to benefit investment bank clients and the agency's bottom line.

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is urging legislative leaders to name lawmakers to a group set up to reform the state's ailing pension system.

Quinn's letter to leaders of the House and Senate says he wants the panel to start working with a top aide on his staff to craft fixes for a system of retirement benefits for state workers that's underfunded by $85 billion.

The letter says it is "critical that we work together this spring" to make the changes.

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