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. 

U.S. Census Bureau

As Illinois prepares for the 2020 census count, leaders of the state census office said they’re focusing on getting correct information out to communities, in particular clearing up confusion about job qualifications for census enumerators, the use of online forms and the timeline for the decennial count.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Illinois plans on spending $400 million over the next several years to improve internet access to farms and small towns.

But first, the state needs to know who has a reliable internet connection and who doesn’t.

The federal government tracks where high-speed internet is available. But the mapping has been criticized for overstating access, particularly in rural areas. Around 30 percent of residents living in rural Illinois lack internet access at speeds of 25 mbps and above, according to a report from the Federal Communications Commission.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

The Illinois attorney general’s office and the owners of the former Pillsbury Mills site agreed that the property has been properly secured after deficiencies were spotted last month in fencing surrounding the North End property.

The two sides reported the agreement to Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Madonia at a court appearance Thursday afternoon.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

The owners of the Pillsbury Mills site will have another day in court. The Illinois attorney general’s office claims the owners have not properly secured the site against trespassers, despite a court order to do so.

That’s according to a petition filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield last month. A hearing is set for Thursday, December 19.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Months after a report advising the City of Springfield to shutter three of its four coal-fired generators, utility officials urged city leaders to make a decision about the future of the plant by January.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

There’s some new lighting and patched fencing around the abandoned Pillsbury Mills plant on the north end of Springfield. But residents say more work needs to be done to make the area safe. 

NPR Illinois went on a perimeter walk with them over the weekend and has this report.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Illinois is in a precarious position when it comes to the 2020 census. The count determines congressional representation, and the state is at risk for losing up to two seats.

Central and southern Illinois appear most vulnerable to losing a congressional seat, which is why it’s especially important to make sure everyone participates, according to Anita Banerji, director of the Democracy Initiative with Forefront Illinois. The Chicago-based civic engagement nonprofit has been working to ensure an accurate count.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Many cities across Illinois are struggling to meet required police and fire pension payments. In Springfield, every dollar homeowners pay in real estate taxes goes right back out to cover that cost. Next year, as payments grow, the city needs to come up with an additional $1.5 million dollars.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

A community group wants the city of Springfield to take over the Pillsbury Mills Plant, tear it down and redevelop the site.

But, first, they want the city to make sure the area is closed off to trespassers.

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.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

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.

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