Maureen Foertsch McKinney

News Editor

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is the NPR Illinois News Editor and a lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers,  and is curator of the Equity blog. Maureen joined the staff in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Molly Marshall / Flickr (CC-NC 2.0)

A measure to expand cases when eviction records can be sealed has advanced out of a House committee.

Proponents say unsealed eviction notices can taint a renter’s record even if an eviction is never carried out. That makes it difficult for renters to find a new home.

Bob Palmer of Housing Action Illinois says,“We understand that landlords have a compelling interest in wanting to screen tenants so they can get good tenants, but we don't think that just having an eviction filing is a good reflection  on someone's ability to be a good tenant.”

Equality Illinois

LGBTQ activists are speaking out about  proposed legislation that would punish medical  professionals who treat transgender youth.  

Under Republican sponsor Tom Morrison’s (R-Palatine) plan, medical professionals performing sex-change surgeries or prescribing certain hormones could have their licenses suspended or revoked.

Advocates pointed to Morrison’s history of proposing legislation hurtful to transgender youth, including an unsuccessful measure that would have required transgender students use the bathroom or locker room corresponding to their gender at birth.

Illinois House Democratic Caucus

Illinois could become the most progressive state in the nation on abortion rights if a proposed bill is approved this year.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

The Illinois House Wednesday approved a plan that would require k-12 history textbooks to include LGBTQ  figures.

Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, a Glenview Democrat and supporter of the bill, says if it had been law 15 years ago, her brother would not have been denied tenure in a suburban Chicago public school for his decision to talk about sexuality with his students.

State senators Melinda Bush,  at left, a Democrat from Graylake and Jil Tracy, a Republican from Quincy, co-chaired the Senate committee on sexual discrimination and sexual harassment.
Maureen McKinney / NPR Illinois

The state Senate task force on sexual discrimination and  sexual harassment released its report this week, and leaders announced related bills, including several aimed at the business community.

One measure would require private employers to provide sexual harassment training, limit businesses’ use of non-disclosure agreements, mandate that large employers disclose sexual harassment settlements, and allow victims of sexual harassment or sexual violence to take unpaid leave.

Mark Baylor / Flickr (CC 2.0)

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he wants to invest in programs for children, and the budget he proposed this week called for increases in early childhood services and the Child Care Assistance Program.

Child advocacy groups applauded the proposals, including a $30 million boost to the CCAP program to help lower-income families pay for child care, and a $100 million increase for the Early Childhood Block Grant. The block grant for helps at-risk families with supports like home visits, parent education and preschool.

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:

Daniel X. O'Neil / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Saying the state is the midst of an affordable housing crisis, one lawmaker has introduced legislation that aims to boost low-cost rental units by offering a tax credit.

Courtesy of Petina Dixon-Jenkins

In Illinois, losing a baby before its first birthday happens far more often to black mothers than those of other races. The difference between whites and blacks is nearly three-fold.

Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

A proposal calling for public schools to adopt curricula that would include information about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people is advancing to the Illinois legislature. 

State Rep. Deborah Conroy taught religious education to Catholic public school students for 15 years. But the Villa Park Democrat is co-sponsoring this bill.

Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus

The  Chicago-based child advocacy group Voices for Illinois Children wants Illinois lawmakers to consider how their policies might worsen racial and ethnic disparities.

According to a spokeswoman,  state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat, is expected to introduce a measure that would create a “racial impact note” – where a lawmaker could ask for additional information tacked onto a bill that would estimate the impact on minorities.

They would be similar to fiscal notes that detail how a policy would affect the state’s finances.

SIUMedicine

SIUMedicine in Springfield has opened what may be the first primary care clinic in Illinois to serve foster children on an ongoing basis.

VCU CNS / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

As suicide and opioid death numbers climb, researchers investigate how strong a connection exists.

Woman at a microphone
Anne Ryan / anneryanphoto.com

An Illinois group says it has found a way to improve the handling of mental health issues in children.

 

The Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation aimed to increase ties among schools, mental health and primary care providers and sometimes early childhood and juvenile justice programs.To that end, it issued $12 million in grants to four communities in 2010.

 

Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago

One of the most pressing issues plaguing children’s health in Illinois is the higher-than-average infant mortality rate, especially among black children. A group of 85 Illinoisans are looking at that issue and others that affect child health quality in the state.

That group, which includes health care providers, business people, educators, lawmakers, parents and others, met in Chicago today (Tuesday).

J.B. Pritzker for Governor

Former and outgoing Illinois leaders offer suggestions for the man going to the mansion. 

Charles Edward Miller / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Jane Galliher says she was raped by her boss 16 years ago. At the time, she feared she wouldn’t be believed. But with the encouragement of a friend, she told her story of the sexual assault to Springfield police. 

In her case, the police report didn’t culminate in a charge being filed by the Sangamon County state’s attorney. Still, she believes she made the right decision about reporting.

Maxica Williams, seen with three of her children, appeared before a state legislative committee to speak to the need for an increase financial help for needy families.
Courtesy of Maxica Williams

Illinois recipients of Temporary Aid for Needy Families - also known as TANF - will see an increase in the amount of their monthly grants in October. A $22 million boost was negotiated in the budget this year. Advocates for the poor say the difference may mean more families will be off the streets.

Mae Benjamins daughter Melody works as Maes personal health care assistant.
COURTESY OF MELODY BENJAMIN

Some experts say black women may bear the brunt if union membership declines or financial support lessens as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME, which decreed that public sector unions can no longer force workers they represent to pay fees in lieu of union dues. But conservative groups say the cost is justified to protect workers' free speech rights. 

Heartland Alliance Social Impact Research Center

Poverty rates nationwide improved in 2017 but were stagnant in Illinois

Chicago-based Heartland Alliance says census numbers show the national poverty rate is 12.3 percent — a little better than Illinois' 12.6 percent. 

Katie Buitrago  directs Heartland’s research arm:

“I think there’s a number of reasons that Illinois is not faring as well as the rest of the nation in addressing poverty. The two-year budget crisis that Illinois experienced extended well into 2017 and these 2017 poverty numbers reflect the effects of that crisis and well as cuts before that.”

Flickr/Creative Commons

The Illinois State Board of Education reports that the number of homeless students has climbed over the last few years.

 

There were  53,733 homeless students counted throughout the state in fiscal year 2016. That number grew by 56,881 by the end of this fiscal year.

 

Julie Dworkin, director of policy for the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, says it’s hard to tell why the increase occurred .

Isaiah Milton, 10, holds a candle at a memorial for his 19-year-old cousin Jeremiah Shaw, who was shot to death   in Chicago.
ALEX WROBLEWSKI

The gap, caused mainly by homicides, is one of the biggest in the nation.

Illinois poverty ratings
Social IMPACT Research Center / Heartland Alliance

About half of Illinois’ counties are on poverty watch or warning lists released Monday by an anti-poverty organization, the Heartland Alliance.

The number of counties with those poor ratings increased from 30 last year to 52 this year. 

Voices for Illinois Children

Black kids in Illinois are far more likely to die than their white and Hispanic counterparts, due to issues ranging from maternal stress to disease and homicide. 

The gap in death rates for black children as opposed to other races is the third-largest in the nation, while the gap in the teen death rate is the fourth-highest.

The gap still exists for infants, but is a little narrower than it had been in the past.

In Illinois, somebody being paid minimum wage would have to work 99 hours a week to afford the average two-bedroom apartment. That means an individual would have to earn more than $20 an hour to be able to pay for that two-bedroom apartment.

Those statistics come from a June report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Illinois’ average cost for a two-bedroom apartment is just above $1,058 a month. Illinois’ minimum wage is $8.25 an hour

Dese’Rae L. Stage for Live Through This

Amid the news of high profile celebrity taking their own lives, the Centers for Disease Control reports suicide rates have gone up across the United States.  Since 1999, Illinois has seen a 23-percent increase. 

Chicago author Kelley Clink tried to kill herself when she was 16, and several years later her younger brother, Matt, died by his own hand.

Reporter Maureen McKinney talked with Clink about the ways suicide has touched her life. Clink’s memoir, published in 2015, is called A Different Kind of Same.

Marcus Butler of  Springfield has been unemployed since October of 2016.
Katie Buck / NPR IllINOIS

Experts blame the long-standing problem on discrimination, especially the "inadequate, inequitable'' education funding system.

Illinois House Democrats

A measure awaiting  Gov. Bruce Rauner’s signature would expand protections in the Human Rights Act to cover workers at businesses with 15 or fewer employees. 

State Rep. Will Guzzardi, a Chicago Democrat, says it’s impossible to know how many times employees of small businesses in Illinois tried to file complaints under the Human Rights Act because they’ve had no coverage under the 38-year-old act. He said he’s talked to many lawyers who’ve turned would-be clients from small business away because they had no protections under Illinois or federal law.

Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

UPDATE: The House Tuesday voted down Senate Bill 2332, which would have raised the tobacco purchase age in Illinois to to 21.

A measure in play at the Statehouse would make it a crime to sell tobacco products,  including cigarettes and vaping devices, to those under age 21.

Laura Sido of East Alton worked in bars and restaurants all of her adult life.  She smoked on and off until earlier this month. Sido, a 49-year-old stay-at-home grandmother, now has a chronic lung disease, COPD. And she  says she is in favor of anything that could keep young people from smoking.

Molly Marshall / flickr cc nc2.0

Keeping cases unsealed leaves guiltless tenants at risk for rejection, but that could make it difficult for landlords to be diligent in screening, Realtors say.

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