Mary Hansen

Reporter

Mary reports for NPR Illinois and the Illinois Newsroom. 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. 

(CC BY-NC 2.0) / Flickr: Dank Depot

Springfield’s City Council Tuesday debated rules for the sale of recreational cannabis, but some residents want the city to ban sales altogether. Under the new state-wide recreational cannabis law, cities and villages can allow the retail sale of the drug. Several cities, like Naperville, have already opted out.

Pat Nabong, special to ProPublica

Former University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Gary Gang Xu assaulted and threatened students while university officials downplayed complaints, a lawsuit says. He ultimately resigned, taking $10,000 as part of his separation agreement.

This article was produced in partnership with NPR Illinois, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

Vaping360 via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

There are rising calls for tighter restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes in Illinois. They come as another death linked to vaping was reported this week.

A public health advocate and a state legislator want the state to ban flavored e-cigarettes and vaping in public.

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) / Mike Mozart - Flickr

Springfield residents will no longer be able to smoke electronic cigarettes in public places, like bars, restaurants and workplaces.

In a 10-0 vote, aldermen added electronic cigarettes and marijuana to a smoking ban approved in 2006, two years before a statewide law went into effect.

This is months ahead of a rollout of recreational marijuana in Illinois, which becomes legal in January.

Ward 9 Ald. Jim Donelan — who proposed the rules — says it’s a matter of public health.

State Week logo (capitol dome)
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

A new report from NPR Illinois and ProPublica shows the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has protected the reputation of several members of the faculty accused of sexual harassment.

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s tenure crossed the 100-day mark. She marked the ocassion by giving a speech laying out the city's significant fiscal problems, but stopped short of saying precisely what she wants to do to fix them.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Just inside the main gate of the Illinois State Fair sits a cluster of white booths around a gazebo. At the entrances, signs read “Ethnic Village.” For nearly 40 years, fair-goers have found food from around the world as well as music and other performances. But this is the last year it will have that name.

Governor J.B. Pritzker recently approved legislation to rename it the “Village of Cultures,” and the signs will change for next year’s fair.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Springfield started a new yard waste program this spring, and the city is expecting more money for road and railway projects from a statewide capital plan. The city’s Office of Public Works oversees both.

NPR Illinois talked with its new director, Nate Bottom, about the changes. The Springfield City Council approved Bottom's appointment last week.

The interview covers:

NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Illinois is often talked about as Chicago and the rest of the state.

Illinois Humanities, a nonprofit focused on arts and culture, is hosting the final event in its series of conversations about the urban-rural divide on Friday at the Old State Capitol. A musical performance will follow a panel discussion – “The Country and the City: Common Ground in the Prairie State?”.

After mass shootings in Texas and Ohio last weekend, Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis said he’ll back so-called red-flag laws.

They would allow courts to order an individual’s firearms taken away if he’s deemed a threat to himself or others. Police officers, counselors or relatives would be able to request the order.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

The city of Granite City in the Metro East is facing a lawsuit claiming its crime-free housing rules are unconstitutional.

Attorneys with the Institute for Justice , a libertarian, public interest law firm based in Arlington, Virginia, filed the lawsuit in the Southern District of Illinois' U.S. District Court in East St. Louis Thursday on behalf of two tenants and their landlord.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Unlike other rural towns in central Illinois, officials in Beardstown say their population is growing. And they want to make sure everyone is counted in the 2020 census. 

For this week’s Illinois Issues, we look at the challenges to an accurate count and what’s at risk if not everyone participates.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Springfield Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory was sworn in Tuesday night.

The recount process that landed Gregory the seat lasted more than three months. A drawing determined the winner after the city council declared the race between him and Gail Simpson, former council member and mayoral candidate, a tie.

Gregory said he’ll seek guidance and support from Simpson as well as those who voted for her.

Three smoke stacks from Springfield's City Water, Light and Power sit on the lake.
Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Michael Cassidy makes eight or ten trips a day driving a semi truck between the coal mine in Williamsville and the power plant on Lake Springfield. He travels the 16 miles mostly on Interstate 55 with around two dozen tons of coal.

“Just back and forth all day,” he said while taking a break at a gas station off the interstate. “It’s a little boring yes.”

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Shawn Gregory is the new alderman for Springfield’s Ward 2. The decision came down to drawing a ping pong ball out of a bag.

Earlier in the evening, the Springfield City Council voted 9-0 to declare the race between Gregory and Ald. Gail Simpson a tie.

springfield.il.us

After months of recounts and appeals, the decision of who should represent Springfield’s Ward 2 landed at the city council Tuesday. But council members could not reach agreement between Ald. Gail Simpson or Willie “Shawn” Gregory.

Much of the debate revolved around small initials election judges need to make on every ballot. On two contested ballots for Gregory – a judge had signed it, just not on the line where she was supposed to.

Retired Judge John Mehlick, who acted as hearing officer, recommended not counting them.

Rodney Davis
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

As President Donald Trump pushes for a question about citizenship on the census, a Republican Congressman from central Illinois is avoiding taking sides on the issue.

Republican Congressman Rodney Davis said he could go either way on whether U.S. residents are asked if they are citizens on the decennial survey.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Gas prices in Illinois are creeping up as a 19-cent increase in the fuel tax took effect Monday.

The average price around Illinois for a gallon of gas rose slightly – from $2.79 to $2.84 between Sunday and Monday, according to gasbuddy.com - a crowdsourcing app. The consumer group AAA puts the average price around the state at nearly $3, up from $2.89 Monday.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on whether the Trump administration can add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. In Illinois, Governor J.B. Pritzker is moving ahead with plans to make sure everyone in the state is counted.

State of Illinois drawn on chalkboard
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Illinois is investing tens of millions of dollars to make sure no one is missed in the 2020 census.

State lawmakers included $29 million in the budget. The majority of the money will go to community groups to educate the public on how the census works and how the government uses the information it collects, according to Sol Flores, a deputy governor leading the census efforts.

She said about 10 percent will be earmarked for radio, television and online ads encouraging census participation. And a small amount will go to the administration of the grants and ad campaign.

NPR Illinois 91.9 | UIS

Illinoisans are likely to have to pay more sales tax when shopping online after state lawmakers made two big changes to tax rules. State tax collections are expected to increase by $288 million this year.

First, marketplaces – think eBay or Etsy – will be required to collect the 6.25 percent state sales tax on behalf of third-parties selling to Illinois customers. Until this legislation, it’s been up to each seller to collect the tax. And, Rob Karr, president of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said many do not.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Sunday night, the Illinois General Assembly finished what by most accounts was a historic session.

From the legalization of marijuana to a massive expansion of gambling, lawmakers made significant changes to the state. We thought we’d listen back to some of the voices that made news in the last week of the 2019 legislative session.

HOUSE REPUBLICAN LEADER JIM DURKIN: “It's been a long year, we've had a lot of emotions that have gone on in this chamber.”

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

Illinois lawmakers doubled the gas tax, raised vehicle registration fees and the tax on tobacco – all to gather money for a $45 billion statewide construction program.

Negotiations spilled into the weekend as an agreement on a gambling package – the primary funding mechanism for building improvements throughout the state – fell apart on Friday, the last day of the spring legislative session.

House Speaker Michael Madigan speaks to his colleagues and Gov. J.B. Pritzker on the last day of the 2019 legislative session
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Illinoisans will soon pay more for gasoline and cigarettes. Those are just two tax increases needed to pay for a $45 billion infrastructure plan, which includes money from sports betting and additional casinos.

Speaker Madigan watching a roll call on the electronic display board.
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The usual May 31st deadline for the Illinois General Assembly passed last night, but lawmakers are not yet done with their work.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Construction workers are building the foundation for new tracks at a train crossing south of downtown Springfield. The long-term plan includes new underpasses so cars won’t have to wait for trains.

Several months ago, Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder sent a letter to lawmakers asking for $127 million in a construction plan to pay for the next phase – new tracks and overpasses farther south.

Illinois Capitol Rotunda
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The U.S. Census count is less than a year away, and the group tasked with making sure everyone is counted is asking state lawmakers for millions to help in that effort.

If the count on April 1, 2020 reveals that Illinois has lost another 45,000 residents, the state could lose two of its 18 congressional seats, according to an analysis from Election Data Services Inc., a political consulting firm.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Most of the electricity used in Springfield comes from the coal-fired power plant on Lake Springfield. The city's public utility, City Water, Light and Power, is considering a recommendation to shut down a large part of that plant and move to wind or solar.

Some CWLP workers are worried about their jobs in light of the study. Meanwhile, environmentalists who support the move away from fossil fuels have said the city can limit the impact on workers with retraining and other job opportunities.

Peter Gray / NPR Illinois

Drive down a major road or highway in Illinois and you’ll likely feel the bump of potholes. A report from TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, put a number on what it costs drivers to travel these roads — $18.3 billion. That includes additional car repairs, time lost in traffic, and crashes caused by poor road conditions.

Lawmakers are using the new report to push for a multibillion-dollar infrastructure plan, paid for in part by a gas tax hike and higher vehicle and registration fees.

Alex Coleman / Illinois Newsroom

In one town in the Metro East, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, police are forcing landlords to evict tenants who have called for help during an overdose because they have heroin or other controlled substances in their rental property.

Kristin Walters

Illinois continues to lose residents, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau released in April. Overall, around 45,000 fewer people lived in the state in 2018 than 2017, a loss of about 0.4%.

About half of that decline is in the Chicago metropolitan region, particularly in Cook County, which saw a 0.5% decrease. The recent numbers show growth in the Chicago region has slowed, but long-term trends find that downstate is shrinking at a much faster and sustained pace.

“If we take that longer view, we’re actually seeing population growth centered up around Chicago,” said Cynthia Buckley, a professor of sociology and social demographer at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.

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