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. 

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.

Allen Allen / https://www.allenandallen.com/

Two competitive judicial races for circuit court are on the ballot in Champaign County this year, which doesn’t happen often. Illinois elects its circuit judges to six-year terms, after which they run unopposed to be retained and are rarely unseated.

As an Illinois Newsroom listener watched a recent debate between the candidates, she says the label of “Democrat” and “Republican” for the judicial candidates was confusing. She found herself agreeing with points made by candidates from both sides.

tom.arthur/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Election authorities around Illinois expect to be ready when early voting begins this Thursday.

Still, reform groups say rule changes are needed after problems arose during the primary. A ballot challenge in the crowded attorney general race delayed the start of early voting in some counties early this year.

Flickr: Gabriel Garcia Marengo / 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Drone enthusiasts, be aware – the rules for the small, unmanned aircrafts could be changing in Illinois.

A new law bars cities from regulating the use of drones.

The law excludes the city of Chicago, but a spokesman with the Illinois Department of Transportation says it will create consistent rules around the rest of the state.

Jackie Reiser is a co-owner of Measure Illinois – a Springfield-based company that provides drones to oversee power lines and construction sites. She says more unified regulation is a good thing.

tom.arthur/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In the past, Ann Quackenbush would wake up early on election day to get to her polling place. The elementary school teacher in Champaign says it was often hard to make time to vote during a busy school day.

For the primary last March, she tried something different – mailing in her ballot before election day.

“It is just incredibly convenient,” said Quackenbush, who has already requested a mail-in ballot for the mid-terms in November.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Gary Smith has worked at the grain elevator at Okaw Farmer’s Co-op in Lovington, Illinois, for forty years. On his desk sit two computer screens, where he tracks corn and soybean prices online at the Chicago Board of Trade.

As he explains, trade moves fast: “Just bam bam bam, and within a few seconds it could change a nickel or a dime against your favor.”

Photo by Franck V. on Unsplash

Farm towns in Illinois could get access to high-speed internet with the help of new federal funding.

Nine companies are getting nearly $100 million from the Federal Communications Commission to bring internet access to small towns in the state.

The commission this week announced the subsidies, which are funded from a service fee on most internet and phone bills.

Wisper ISP, based in Mascoutah, Illinois, was awarded the largest grant, $35 million, to connect nearly 9,000 homes and businesses in southern Illinois.

Rodney Davis
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Recent ratings from political analysts downgraded the likelihood that two Republican Congressmen in Illinois will win re-election.

In an off-presidential year, it’s no secret that candidates from the president’s party have a tougher time winning races. That’s one reason a project from the University of Virginia Center for Politics moved the re-election campaigns of Congressmen Rodney Davis and Randy Hultgren one notch closer to a toss-up.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Illinois and Springfield officials gathered in the capital city Sunday to dedicate a new plaza celebrating the state’s 200th anniversary.

The pedestrian walkway spans a block between the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Illinois Executive Mansion.

Photo by Tom Zittergruen on Unsplash

Farm towns in Illinois have been shrinking for decades, and the trend doesn’t show signs of reversing.

By 2025, rural counties with populations of less than 10,000 people will see 7.4 percent of their residents leave, while counties with populations between 10,000 and 25,000 will lose 5.4 percent. That’s according to projections from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

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