Hannah Meisel

2014 Public Affairs Reporting Intern - Statehouse, Freelancer

Hannah covered state government and politics for WUIS and Illinois Public Radio while working toward a master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.

She graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she was managing editor for online at The Daily Illini. Hannah has also worked for NPR in Washington, D.C. 

Ways to Connect

 Low-income children in Illinois are getting better healthcare coverage. But a new study says racial and socioeconomic disparities still exist. Voices for Illinois Children, the advocacy group behind the research, says its number one obstacle is state funding.

The group cites the expansion of Medicaid — the state's health program for low-income individuals — as having the single biggest impact on the well-being of kids in poverty.

Republicans (and some Democrats) in the General Assembly say Medicaid spending is unsustainable, and needs to be rolled back.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  Gun rights activists from across Illinois were in Springfield Wednesday, asking lawmakers to ease restrictions on where they're allowed to carry concealed weapons.

"Gun-free zones are killing zones," the crowd chanted in the Capitol rotunda. Hundreds of advocates marched to the Statehouse to rally for their Second Amendment rights. Among them was Sharon Mausey of Crab Orchard, in far southern Illinois. She says receiving her concealed carry license on Tuesday was a long-awaited dream come true.

flickr/LizMarie_AK

  Moving to a new state is never easy, especially when you’re a school-aged kid. But for military families who move more frequently than most, laws in Illinois create a unique challenge — and, in some cases, a barrier to entry.

Think back to the last time you were ‘the new kid.’ Maybe it was freshman year of college, or when you started a new job or even joined a book club.

Now multiply that ‘new kid’ experience by three and factor in how awkward grade school is … and you might be a little closer to knowing what it’s like to be a military kid.

Courtesy of Wiki Commons

  There are 90 aging coal-ash pits in Illinois — piles of slag left behind when coal is burned for energy. Now coal-ash residue is starting to show up in the water supply. Environmental groups are asking for tougher state regulations.

The Sierra Club of Illinois and the Prairie Rivers Network are among a number of environmental groups lobbying the state to hold energy suppliers accountable for coal-ash pollution.

University of Illinois, Springfield

  Enrollment is down at many of Illinois' public universities. As Hannah Meisel reports, the lost tuition is hurting schools' bottom line.

As the state has cut funding to higher education, universities have made up for the losses by raising tuition. But when there are fewer students to pay, colleges feel the squeeze all over again.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  The battle over raising the minimum wage got lot louder on Wednesday. Several hundred minimum wage workers and union members rallied in the Capitol.

A coalition of unions and activist groups lobbied lawmakers and shared their stories of life on minimum wage.

Rachel Bittenbender is 25 and earning $8.25 an hour. She works just shy of full-time at a fast food restaurant in Dixon, near Rockford.

"After I pay my bills? That's about it," she said. "I have a little bit aside to help with some groceries...and then get my car with some gas if I need it for that week."

  The president of Southern Illinois University came out against raising the state's minimum wage on Thursday. President Glenn Poshard says it'd be too big a hit on the school's bottom line.

While the battle for a higher minimum wage brews in Springfield, Poshard warns of casualties in Carbondale and Edwardsville. Programs at those two campuses, he says, would be hurt in the long run.

"Maintaining the current level of student employment would likely require spending decreases in other areas," he said.

Courtesy of ILGA.gov

  Illinois already has so-called 'sin taxes' on alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Now lawmakers are trying to add sugary drinks to that list. The proposal faces an uphill battle in Springfield.

Sin taxes have a dual purpose: deterring people from what's regarded as undesirable behavior, and generating extra tax money.

In this case, lawmakers want to charge a penny per ounce of sugar-sweetened drinks like soda.

They say it would generate 600 million dollars in revenue. Half the money would go to the state's healthcare program for the poor.

capitol
Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  State lawmakers are considering legislation to prevent smoking in cars with children. Though the measure is aimed at protecting passengers' health, the proposal is raising questions about personal privacy.

The measure would make it illegal to smoke in a car with a minor, but a police officer couldn't pull over drivers just for lighting up.

Even so, Kathy Drea, of the American Lung Association, says putting a law on the books sends a message to smokers.

Drea compares the proposal to other laws pertaining to vehicles.

Barbara Flynn Currie
ILGA.gov

  Efforts to raise the minimum wage have been getting a lot of attention, but it's not the only proposal intended to improve the lives of the working poor. Following the call of Gov. Pat Quinn, some lawmakers want to double Illinois' tax credit for low income workers.

The earned income tax credit began as a federal program, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan.

Illinois added its own state tax credit later. It's aimed at helping people work their way out of poverty by increasing their spending power.

The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Advocates for people with disabilities say they're worried Governor Pat Quinn's newest healthcare initiative would crowd out certain groups.

The governor's proposal would consolidate nine separate programs that serve people with disabilities. Michael Gelder, the governor's senior advisor on healthcare, says centralizing these programs would be more efficient.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  As veterans return to civilian life in Illinois, the state provides loans to those having trouble affording a home. Officials were in Springfield Wednesday, touting that program.

Navy veteran Jonas Harger welcomed Governor Pat Quinn into his Springfield home Wednesday. He says he couldn't have bought it without the help of the state's "Welcome Home Heroes" program.

Sen. Dick Durbin
Hannah Meisel / WUIS

  U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is criticizing the Republican field of candidates governor for their stances on low-income workers and the unemployed.

It's an ongoing battle the Democratic senator is fighting in Congress, mirrored in the race for the governor's mansion: raising the minimum wage.

The four Republican candidates for governor oppose raising the minimum wage in Illinois, which is currently $8.25 an hour.

One reason they've given is that mostly high school and college students work minimum wage jobs. Senator Durbin says that isn't so.

capitol
Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  When tragedy strikes, politicians often line up to say they'll do something to make sure it doesn't happen again. But the follow-up can lag early promises. That's what happened after the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.

  Illinois schools have seen state funding cut again and again in recent years. A Democratic lawmaker wants to change how that money is distributed. But it remains to be whether they can get more money in the system.

State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) says inequality is basically guaranteed by Illinois' complicated education funding laws. That's because it's based on property taxes, so schools in impoverished areas can struggle to get by.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

  There are thousands of personal support workers in Illinois — home care workers who provide support to developmentally disabled people, and those with other special needs. Advocates say the average wage for the field is just over nine dollars and they're calling for an increase.

Tressa Wilson is one of the thousands of personal support workers in Illinois who see to the needs of those with disabilities — needs ranging from feeding and bathing to companionship and general care.

flickr/theeggplant

  Illinois ranks first in a nationwide study surveying traffic safety laws. The new report card by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety gave Illinois’ collection of traffic laws a very high grade with just one caveat: llinois does not require motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.

Jackie Gillan, president of the lobbying group, says this is the biggest factor precluding Illinois from a higher grade.

  House Speaker Michael Madigan wants to cut the state's corporate tax rate in half. It's an apparent about face on tax policy that's left some Republicans scratching their heads.

Madigan says his proposal aims to create a friendlier business climate in Illinois. Corporations would pay a 3.5 percent tax, down from the current 7 percent.

It's a sharp turn from three years ago when Madigan pushed to increase the corporate tax rate along with the individual income tax.

ilga.gov

  The polar vortex returned to the Midwest this week, with frigid temperatures making it difficult for Illinoisans to keep their houses warm. Winter has been especially harsh for people who heat with propane, which has seen a near four-fold price increase in the wake of a regional shortage.

State Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) says the cost of propane is forcing families to make difficult decisions.

The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Nearly three million Illinoisans receive benefits in the form of food stamps, welfare or medical help. But one lawmaker says too much of this assistance is being "drained" by drug users.

Rep. Dwight Kay (R-Glen Carbon) is proposing changes to the way beneficiaries qualify for assistance. He wants to require drug testing when people sign up for welfare. The representative says the state pays money to people without assessing their ability to be productive.

The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

  Illinois has registries for sex offenders and for those who've harmed children. Now a lawmaker wants to create a registry for people who've hurt animals.

Representative Toni Berrios' proposal would create a registry for animal abusers, to be maintained by the state’s Department of Agriculture. Once on the registry, a person couldn’t buy a companion animal, or be employed in a job involving animals.

Berrios, a Democrat from Chicago, says the current penalty for a first-time offender is too light.

  Illinois ranks last in the nation when it comes to how much money the state kicks in for public education. This has to do with the complicated formula that determines school funding. But it also has to do with the amount districts are being prorated.

This year, Illinois is only paying 89 percent of the money it's supposed to send to schools. Currently those cuts are applied across the board, hitting wealthy and poor districts alike.

Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon says she wants to make sure schools districts with more impoverished students aren't left behind.

flickr/theeggplant

  Illinois law says after four DUI convictions, that person can never drive again, not even if his or her offenses are long in the past. But one lawmaker wants to give people who've gotten their lives together another chance drive.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) says her bill was inspired by a constituent who had several DUIs in the past, but has been sober for years.

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