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. 

Pat Nabong special to ProPublica

The ACLU of Illinois, press freedom groups and victims’ rights advocates urged the university to alter a policy that requires reporters to tell campus officials about sources’ sexual harassment complaints.

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

The city of Springfield is hiring a consultant to help with a plan to shut down part of its coal plant. This comes months after a report found three of the four generators are no longer economically viable.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

A proposal for what to do with Springfield’s power plant could be announced in November. The plan would follow a report from the spring recommending the city shut down three of its four coal generators. 

Springfield residents from wards 5 and 6 asked questions about crime, homelessness, the  future of City Water, Light and Power, and Pillsbury Mills at a meeting Monday night.

Springfield city leaders set the dates for public meetings in each ward. Dates, times and locations are below. This post will be updated as locations are announced.

To find out which ward you live in, you can search for your address at the Sangamon County Clerk’s website here.

Wards 5 & 6: Monday, October 28, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m., Hanson Professional Services, 1525 S. 6th Street

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

On the roof of the Kerasotes building in downtown Springfield, at the corner of Sixth and Washington streets, Michelle Knox shows off a 9.9-kilowatt array of solar panels.

“This system offsets about 25% of the building’s consumption,” she said.

Those savings make the monthly City Water, Light and Power bill lower than it would be without solar panels. And thanks to a system called “net metering,” CWLP gives the building owners a credit when the panels produce extra electricity, which goes back to the city grid.

WQNA Facebook Page

A group of DJs with WQNA radio is raising money to keep Springfield’s community radio station on the air. 

The group has set up a GoFundMe page, called “Save Community Radio in Springfield!”, to purchase the license and equipment needed to continue broadcasting. The goal is $35,000, and as of Thursday, had $3,210 

committed.

 

The potential merger of two newspaper giants – Gannett and GateHouse Media – has newspaper reporters in Springfield and around the country worried about additional cuts.

Reporters with the State Journal-Register, which GateHouse owns, demonstrated outside their office on Ninth Street Thursday. It’s part of a nationwide effort of unionized newsrooms to bring attention to the merger.

Sangamon Valley Collection, Lincoln Library

The site of remains of burned down homes from the 1908 Race Riot in Springfield, in which a white mob lynched two innocent black men, is on the path to becoming a National Historic Monument.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

After four hours of contentious debate Tuesday night, the Springfield City Council approved the location of a 24-hour center that would provide emergency shelter and health services to the homeless.

The vote Tuesday night was 8-2, with Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory and Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner voting against the measure.

Supporters of the Center for Health and Housing, to be placed at 521 S. 11th Street, say it will have multiple services under one roof and bring needed medical services to the city’s East Side.

(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.

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.

Pages