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. 

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Candidates vying to represent neighborhoods on Springfield’s east side and downtown as well as surrounding Lake Springfield met at a forum on Monday night.

A ward map is here (PDF). You can find out which ward you live in at the Sangamon County website.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinoi

Springfield voters will choose a candidate to manage the city’s bank accounts, and collect fees and fines on April 2. Current treasurer Misty Buscher is running for re-election against challenger Jennifer Notariano.

NPR Illinois talked with both candidates about their experience, qualifications and priorities for the office. 

Brian Mackey

Lawmakers are considering whether to ask Illinoisans to pay more for gasoline — with the money dedicated to fixing crumbling infrastructure.

A new proposal at the Statehouse would double the motor fuel tax — from the current 19 cents up to 38 cents a gallon. It would also up driver’s license and vehicle registrations fees, with the goal of raising $2 billion a year to pay for road, bridge, highway and rail improvements.

Kristin Walters / IL Newsroom

In Illinois, there are only 35 affordable housing units for every 100 families considered extremely low-income, according to Housing Action Illinois, a housing advocacy organization.

Housing Choice Voucher, also known as Section 8, is a federal program designed to make market-rate apartments accessible to people who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. The voucher program covers part of the rent for around 97,000 families in Illinois.

In response to a call for questions on affordable housing, one Illinois Newsroom listener asked: “How does Section 8 work? It seems like a great program in theory that also seems really hard for families to access in practice.”

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Many communities in Illinois have rules that say renters can lose their housing if someone in the home is connected to a crime. City leaders who back the policies say the rules make neighborhoods safer. But fair housing advocates question the tactics.

Flickr user: TaxCredits.net

Stores in Illinois keep a portion of what you pay in sales tax. Think of it like a collection fee, though in state government shorthand it’s called a retail discount.

The amount is based on a percentage of what they collect. So the more they sell, the more they keep.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants to cap that amount to $1,000 per month for each retailer. It’s one of several proposals aimed at addressing a $3.2 billion deficit in next year’s budget.

Madelyn Beck

Brian Otten likens his process for dealing with road problems to a triage system.

As the highway engineer in Perry County in southern Illinois, Otten says he gets calls about potholes or cracked drainage pipes. 

“And we’ll go out there and take a look and say, this pipe is about fall in and somebody could have an accident here and really get hurt. That takes precedence over the inconvenience of a pothole,” he said.

Problems on interstate highways and bridges get a lot of attention. But you may be seeing more potholes and cracks on the roads you take to work or even live on, particularly in rural areas.

Slow internet service can slow a business down, adding up to lost time and money. And often the problem is worse in rural areas.

That’s one reason John Sullivan, acting director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said improving internet access is a top priority for him.

“If there isn’t adequate access to high-speed internet, it really drags and holds back the possibility for jobs and opportunities in those areas,” he said.

road construction
Gary Brown via Flickr (gsbrown99)

Driving around Illinois, chances are you’ve experience the jarring crack of a tire hitting the bottom of a pothole. This week, acting transportation secretary Matt Magalis put a cost on that feeling: between $13 billion and $15 billion.

Jaclyn Driscoll / NPR Illinois

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker recalled Illinois’ darkest days during his first budget address Wednesday. But he’s also looking to get beyond the current financial mess — and is calling for higher taxes, now and in the future. 

shape of Illinois in coins
Carter Staley / NPR Illinois

Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered his first budget address at a time of acute fiscal distress for the state of Illinois. It also comes after Democrats have taken total control of the executive and legislative branches of state government, including supermajorities in the Illinois House and Senate.

For this week's Illinois Issues report, NPR Illinois reporters analyzed the governor's speech:

Mary Hansen / NPR

Crumbling sidewalks, gas line failures and cracked concrete — the problems at Brookfield Zoo are a metaphor for what’s wrong with public infrastructure throughout Illinois.

As lawmakers begin negotiating a statewide spending plan to fix it, the zoo is among a growing list of those coming to Springfield with their paws out.

The Chicago Zoological Society, the nonprofit that runs the zoo, is asking state lawmakers for help rehabbing and improving its facilities from a promised capital plan.

springfield.il.us

NPR Illinois talks with State Journal-Register City Reporter Crystal Thomas about the week in Springfield city government news:

*Candidates for city council shared their views on a resolution naming Springfield a welcoming city and consolidating Capital Township at the first candidate forums.

*Springfield firefighters have a new contract with a raise and a compromise on residency requirements.

Mary Hansen / NPR

Keith Treadwell says it took some time for him to talk about the trauma experienced. The 46-year-old lives in Springfield and is part of the supportive housing program with Helping Hands.

“I took advantage of the help that they have there and got an apartment with a roommate,” he said. “And my life has been looking up ever since.”

WIkipedia commons/taken by W. Wadas

NPR Illinois talks with State Journal-Register City Reporter Crystal Thomas about the week in Springfield news:

*Aldermen are set to vote this week on an agreement with a bike-sharing company to get 75 bikes for rent available around the city.

*The proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts March 1 doesn’t have tax hikes like last year’s spending plan. It does include funding for more police and fire vehicles.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Weasle Forsythe is an information assurance apprentice with SuprTEK - a government contracting firm in O’Fallon, Illinois, outside of St. Louis. In the quiet office of cubicles with two screens and near-silent coders, her cubicle is decked out.

“I have all my toys here and my huge fidget cube, and my Spider Gwen and my X-Force Deadpool,” she said.

Amid the color and chaos of superhero posters and figurines - Forsythe pulled out a big black binder. “I mean, this isn’t really sexy, but I think it’s awesome. It’s the NIST compliance,” she said.

Sam Dunklau / NPR Illinois

The need for new or repaired roads, bridges, buildings and other infrastructure in Illinois continues to outpace the amount of funding available to complete the projects. With a new governor and legislative session starting in January, discussions have already started with an aim to change that.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Small internet service providers in Illinois are optimistic after the farm bill – which President Trump recently signed – included more money for expanding high-speed internet access in sparsely populated areas.

The law earmarks $350 million annually for loans and grants for broadband projects. That’s on top of $600 million set aside earlier this year for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Re-Connect program.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

State lawmakers have changed rules about stalking. The new law was part of a response to the mass shooting at a Florida high school earlier this year.

Previously, only a person who is being harassed or stalked can file for an order of protection. Under the order, a judge can prohibit the harasser from getting within a certain distance of the victim.

In the hopes of preventing violence, a law that takes effect Jan. 1 will allow churches, schools or workplaces to ask for similar protections.

TaxCredits.net / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Illinois continues to see big box stores close. That means lost jobs, less tax revenue and often empty store space.

Still, Joe Fackel – with the Canvass Group – says he’s optimistic about the future of retail. The city of Springfield recently hired his firm to look at vacant shopping space in the capital city.

NPR Illinois talked with Fackel about the retail trends he’s seeing.

Below is a lightly edited transcript.

NPR Illinois: What’s the problem you’re trying to solve?

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, a few high school students are measuring and cutting siding.

They’re building a house in the trades class at the Capital Area Career Center in Springfield and learning construction skills, like putting on a roof or installing a window.

Shelby Landers is one of the students hammering siding on to the front of the house. The 17-year-old senior says he was happy to leave the classroom and get more hands-on experience.

Photo by Martin Brosy on Unsplash

Illinois prison inmates will continue to pay $5 for medical and dental visits, after the legislature tried and failed to get rid of the fee last week.

Prison reform advocates want to eliminate the co-pay, saying it deters inmates from seeking necessary treatment. An Illinois Department of Corrections spokeswoman emphasized that no one is denied care for not being able to pay.  

The effort to get rid of the co-pay comes at a time when medical care in the correctional system is under scrutiny due to a class-action lawsuit in federal court.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

If you shop online this holiday season, you’ll likely see more retailers charging you sales tax.

Hundreds more retailers have registered to collect the 6.25-percent tax from Illinois customers since new rules took effect last month.

Sarah Jesmer / WNIJ

This week’s election was expected to bring a second “Year of the Woman” to American politics.

After Tuesday, here’s what that looks like in Illinois: The state’s congressional delegation added one woman, and there will be at least one, maybe up to three, more women serving in Springfield come January.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Just over a million people voted before Election Day in Illinois – and millions more are expected to cast their ballots today.

Illinois State Board of Elections spokesman Matt Dietrich says there have been a few calls regarding problems at polling places. Mostly the issues have been malfunctioning counting machines.

“That’s a pretty routine thing that does tend to happen on Election Day,” he said. “There is a procedure in place for handling those ballots until they can be put into a functioning tabulator.”

NPR Illinois

Sangamon County voters will be asked if Capital Township – which is completely within city of Springfield limits – should merge with the county government.

But both city and county officials say their respective government is best positioned to take over the responsibilities.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

At the county health building in east Springfield, election judge trainees sit through a presentation and comb through packets of information.

On November 6, they’ll check voter rolls, hand out ballots and oversee counting machines.

One group at the training sticks out; about a dozen high school students sit together in the back of the room.

J.B. Pritzker
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Democratic nominee for governor J.B. Pritzker broke the record for self-funding this week. He’s now contributed more than $160 million to his effort to defeat incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The campaign between the two mega-wealthy candidates has featured dozens of political ads, personal attacks, and legal troubles.

Pritzker sat down with NPR Illinois to talk about what would be the priorities for the start of his administration, his plan to shift the state from a flat tax to a graduated income tax and claims of discrimination against his campaign.

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

Erin Cetindag and Delaney Flattery stopped by the Sangamon County building to vote early on a recent Saturday. The two college students were home in Springfield on break from schools out-of-state.

"That was the most fun test I’ve ever taken," laughed Cetindag, a senior at American University.

"We turned it in and got stickers," Flattery, a senior at Butler University added.

When asked about the gender diversity of the candidates they just voted for, both noticed something.

Flick: Joe Shlabotnik / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

You might have seen social media posts saying Tuesday was the voter registration deadline in Illinois.

But don’t worry: Illinois residents can sign up to vote through Election Day.

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