Mary Hansen

Reporter

Mary reports for NPR Illinois and Illinois Issues. She graduated from the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois Springfield, where she spent a legislative session covering statehouse news for The Daily Herald. Previously, Mary reported for The State Journal-Register, covering city government. She received her BA in International Studies from American University. 

Flickr: Gabriel Garcia Marengo / 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Drone enthusiasts, be aware – the rules for the small, unmanned aircrafts could be changing in Illinois.

A new law bars cities from regulating the use of drones.

The law excludes the city of Chicago, but a spokesman with the Illinois Department of Transportation says it will create consistent rules around the rest of the state.

Jackie Reiser is a co-owner of Measure Illinois – a Springfield-based company that provides drones to oversee power lines and construction sites. She says more unified regulation is a good thing.

tom.arthur/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In the past, Ann Quackenbush would wake up early on election day to get to her polling place. The elementary school teacher in Champaign says it was often hard to make time to vote during a busy school day.

For the primary last March, she tried something different – mailing in her ballot before election day.

“It is just incredibly convenient,” said Quackenbush, who has already requested a mail-in ballot for the mid-terms in November.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Gary Smith has worked at the grain elevator at Okaw Farmer’s Co-op in Lovington, Illinois, for forty years. On his desk sit two computer screens, where he tracks corn and soybean prices online at the Chicago Board of Trade.

As he explains, trade moves fast: “Just bam bam bam, and within a few seconds it could change a nickel or a dime against your favor.”

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Farm towns in Illinois could get access to high-speed internet with the help of new federal funding.

Nine companies are getting nearly $100 million from the Federal Communications Commission to bring internet access to small towns in the state.

The commission this week announced the subsidies, which are funded from a service fee on most internet and phone bills.

Wisper ISP, based in Mascoutah, Illinois, was awarded the largest grant, $35 million, to connect nearly 9,000 homes and businesses in southern Illinois.

Rodney Davis
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Recent ratings from political analysts downgraded the likelihood that two Republican Congressmen in Illinois will win re-election.

In an off-presidential year, it’s no secret that candidates from the president’s party have a tougher time winning races. That’s one reason a project from the University of Virginia Center for Politics moved the re-election campaigns of Congressmen Rodney Davis and Randy Hultgren one notch closer to a toss-up.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Illinois and Springfield officials gathered in the capital city Sunday to dedicate a new plaza celebrating the state’s 200th anniversary.

The pedestrian walkway spans a block between the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Illinois Executive Mansion.

Photo by Tom Zittergruen on Unsplash

Farm towns in Illinois have been shrinking for decades, and the trend doesn’t show signs of reversing.

By 2025, rural counties with populations of less than 10,000 people will see 7.4 percent of their residents leave, while counties with populations between 10,000 and 25,000 will lose 5.4 percent. That’s according to projections from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, John Lucas and his granddaughter, McKenna, bet on Saber Rattler at the Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville.

"If she wins this, it'll be the third race in a row she's won," says Lucas as they watch the horses round the final stretch of the track. Saber Rattler came in second.

Lucas has been visiting the track outside of St. Louis a few times a year since the 1980s, traveling across the Illinois border from O'Fallon, Missouri.

Lucas has noticed the steady downturn in fortunes for the track.

Paul Kehrer via Flickr

Twenty years ago, horses competed more than 100 days during the thoroughbred racing season at Fairmount Park in Collinsville.

That number has been slowly dwindling for years, and track officials got approval this month from the Illinois Racing Board to shorten its planned season by several days, to 36 days. The season was supposed to end September 22nd, but the last horses will compete on Labor Day.

The head of the Illinois Farm Bureau is taking issue with President Donald Trump’s comments that he’s opening up the European market to American farmers.

Mark Gebhards, executive director of the bureau, says this may not be possible since the European Union has banned genetically modified products, which many crops from the U.S. contain.

“What’s being said from a public standpoint and what’s actually happening or will happen are two different things in that regard,” he said at a meeting of the Citizen’s Club of Springfield.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Just before noon on a recent Saturday, a group of political memorabilia collectors jostled for a spot around an exhibit table, checking their final bids in a silent auction.

They were in Springfield at the national American Political Items Collectors (APIC) conference. Most of the items up for auction at this table featured presidential candidates.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Ever wonder what happens to campaign swag after election day? Some of it is thrown away, but a lot finds a home with collectors of political memorabilia.

Collectors of campaign buttons, posters and flags are in Springfield this week at the national convention of the American Political Items Collectors.

Co-organizer Bob Atwater says there’s something for everyone.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

This is part of our election-year series, Money Machines, looking at campaign spending in the 2018 election. The first article can be found here.

Madelyn Beck / Illinois Newsroom

Dave Plunk has run Music Makers in Galesburg for more than 15 years, occupying two floors of a three-story building on the town’s main street with rows of guitars, amps and other music equipment.

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

Entrepreneurs and job-seekers in central Illinois can mark their calendars for December 3 and 4, 2018. Facebook is bringing a two-day workshop to Springfield.

NPR Illinois 91.9 | UIS

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on online shopping left two things clear – consumers who buy online will have to pay sales tax on more items, and some states will see more money from those online purchases.

Statehouse exit sign
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Illinois is losing residents, according to recent census estimates, and common explanations include high taxes, unfriendly business policies or the state’s growing pension debt.

An article from the watchdog group Better Government Association examines those claims. The BGA’s senior editor, Bob Secter, says they distract from a deeper look at demographic trends.

WIkipedia commons/taken by W. Wadas

The latest employment numbers show Illinois is adding jobs, and the rate of unemployment across the state is dipping below 4 percent.

However, Jim Clifton, CEO of the research firm Gallup, says those reports can be misleading because they count people who have part-time jobs, but who would prefer full-time hours and pay.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Illinois will host what could be the most expensive race for governor in U.S. history. The huge increase in campaign spending raises a lot of questions about the rise of big money in politics. Between now and the election, Illinois Issues will examine the impact in a series we're calling Money Machines.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

A branch of the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrants-rights organizations rallied in Springfield Friday afternoon, criticizing a controversial U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy.

The Trump administration has come under fire for stepping up a policy that splits up families caught entering the country without proper documentation. 

“It would be devastating to be pulled away from my mom,” said 8-year-old Kinley Lazare to the crowd gathered outside U.S. Attorney office.

MATT ALANIZ ON UNSPLASH

Talks to legalize sports betting in Illinois have heated up after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban last week.

State Week logo
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner used his amendatory veto powers to rewrite a gun bill, simultaneously proposing more gun control than the original bill called for while also reinstating the death penalty.

Meanwhile, local governments are complaining about the state's attempt to share less money from the income tax, while gambling interests prepare to fight it out after the U.S. Supreme Court paved the way for legal sports betting in every state.

Illinois Public Radio

Illinois lawmakers have two weeks to get together a spending plan. Officials from cities across the state are going on the offensive to keep lawmakers from balancing the budget by raiding their pockets.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Mounting pension debt, persistent cash flow issues, and political gridlock – Illinois has a lot of problems. But it wasn’t always this way.

In a recent article for the magazine Governing, Daniel Vock examines how the state got here

Methodist College students take a break between classes at the campus in Peoria, which is a former furniture store.
Mary Hansen / NPR IllINOIS | 91.9 UIS

As more retail chains shut down, cities across Illinois figure out what to do with millions of square feet of empty space.

Google Maps

A federal judge has ruled the Illinois prison system is still providing inadequate mental healthcare to inmates and that the treatment qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.

The ruling comes after attorneys representing inmates filed a claim last year with the court that the department was not following through on a settlement reached in 2016 to overhaul mental health treatment in Illinois prisons.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

U. S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth made history last week by being the first to bring her infant to the Senate floor while she voted. In Springfield, both chambers have been open to mothers and children.

NPR Illinois 91.9 | UIS

Legislation to expand Illinois’ sales tax for online shopping recently passed the Senate. But it faces several more hurdles before it could become law.

Google Maps

The Illinois Department of Corrections says a major cash crunch has it struggling to keep its facilities running.

The warning came Wednesday at a Senate budget hearing. But some Democratic lawmakers say that was the first time they were hearing the situation was so dire.

Matt Alaniz on Unsplash

March Madness fans in Illinois could not legally bet on Monday’s championship game. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision expected this spring could open the door to states allowing sports betting, both in-person and online.

Lawmakers in Illinois and more than a dozen other states are considering proposals that would regulate the industry.

A study from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, LLC shows earnings could total $681 million in the state, according to Chris Grove, managing director of sports with the firm. That could mean tax revenue in the tens of millions.

Pages