Illinois Issues

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Reporting and analysis taking you beyond the daily news and providing a deeper understanding of our state. 

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Illustration by Brian Mackey / Photo by Kenwood

News Analysis — The Illinois Department of Corrections did not fare well in a recent state audit. Among the findings was that the agency could not account for 3,568 pieces of equipment.

Dig into the numbers and property records, and you’ll find a bigger story about the challenges of pursuing efficiency in state government.

Marijuana and criminal justice
Flickr: users memphislaw & temiraydisfruta, with adaptation

Politicians spearheading the effort to legalize recreational marijuana say revenue isn't the driving force. It's about promoting criminal and social justice for people of color who have been unfairly targeted by the war on drugs. But, prominent activists from minority communities question whether these lofty goals are possible. 

Student athletes in gym
Mark Ambrose

Illinois has 852 school districts — the third highest number of any state in the nation. Some are just single schools, with fewer than a hundred students. But getting districts to merge, or consolidate, has proven difficult.

 Should minors have to tell their parents or a judge when they want to terminate a pregnancy?

Illinois State Library

A long time ago, the tax was proposed by the GOP and opposed by Democrats. It became law, but it didn't last long.

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker recently signed into law an increase to the state’s minimum wage. But restaurant servers, bartenders and other workers who depend on tips, say it’s not a full victory. 

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.

Students, teachers, staff and volunteers pose for photo in prison
Karl Soderstrom

Ro’Derick Zavala grew up in Chicago at 21st and State Street — the northern tip of a four-mile corridor lined with 8,000 units of public housing. His mother worked three jobs, including one at Walgreens, where she would pick up the Disney and Hanna Barbera books that inspired Zavala to fall in love with reading at a young age.

That passion should’ve made him a successful student. But on Chicago’s south side, in the 1980s, it was hard to find a safe place to go to school.

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.

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:

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.

inhaling a cigarette
Julie via Flickr / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For decades, public health advocates have pushed for limits on smoking. They've included warning labels on products to limits on where someone can light up, all of which have helped bring down smoking rates. But in Illinois, a push to raise the smoking age has repeatedly failed to become law. We took a look at this year's push, and what chance it has at becoming law.

Tim's Story: The Quiet Killer

Jan 31, 2019
Courtesy of Debra Landis

Before Tim Landis died a year ago, there had been little indication he had heart disease. He’d had an active lifestyle and ate a healthy diet. But an autopsy revealed he had had years of untreated high blood pressure. His widow, Debra Landis, wrote a first-person account of losing Tim and her investigation into the disease that took his life.

Two students in lab
Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

College has traditionally been the place young adults get the education they need to pursue their life’s calling. At one of Chicago’s City Colleges, there’s a program for student’s whose life calling deals with death.

Alycia Adams attends Malcolm X College, which is strategically located near Chicago’s medical district, and specializes in the health sciences. But unlike most of her classmates at Malcolm X, Adams isn’t learning anything about saving lives.

“It started with a guinea pig, in third grade,” she says. “I had the responsibility of taking care of it over the summer, and they don’t live long, and so it died.”

VCU CNS / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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

The Pritzker Agenda

Jan 10, 2019
J.B. Pritzker
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker takes office next week on the heels of the most decisive election victory in a generation. And he’ll be working to pass his agenda through the biggest Democratic majorities in the General Assembly since the 1960s.

That raises a question: What precisely does that agenda consist of? 

New Illinois Laws in 2019

Jan 1, 2019
Meagan Davis / Flickr

State lawmakers approved hundreds of changes that are now Illinois law.

Guns, hemp, and stalking are among the themes of the more than 250 new Illinois laws signed by Governor Bruce Rauner that took effect on New Year’s Day.

We took a look at some of the biggest changes to come out of Springfield in the past year, and how they'll affect life in the Prairie State in 2019.

  

Dana Heupel, who oversaw Illinois Issues for seven years, passed away Wednesday at his home in Springfield. He is being remembered for his professionalism, journalistic skills and kind nature.

Jennie Hodgers AKA Albert Cashier served in the Company G of the 95th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry, which fought at Vicksburg.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

An Illinois woman posed as a man and served in the infantry during the Civil War. Was she transgender?

adapted photo from Heath Alseike/flickr

With growing support among politicians and the public, Illinois could likely legalize recreational marijuana as soon as next year. But, passing legislation may hinge on where the revenue will go. 

Daisy Contreras / NPR Illinois

Two small towns in rural Illinois recently lost their Walmart stores -- more than three decades after the retail giant came in and pushed out mom and pop shops. Now, the communities have lost convenience as well as major property and sales tax revenue. Some see it as an opportunity to revitalize main street, while others are not so optimistic.

Blagojevich mugshot with wiretap waveform
Brian Mackey (illustration) / U.S. Government (photo)

News Analysis — This coming Sunday, December 9, marks the 10th anniversary of the day the FBI arrested Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

The event led to his impeachment, criminal conviction and a 14-year prison sentence. There were also changes in state ethics laws.

But there are those who say the corruption was not the worst part of the Blagojevich administration — and I am among them. I'll make that argument in this week's Illinois Issues in-depth report.

The first Illinois capitol at Kaskaskia.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Archives

Prairie politicians didn't let challenges, like rules, get in their way, historians say.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Commentary: Trying to impose his will rather than seeking compromise and calling counterparts corrupt got the one-term politician nowhere.

Like an actor in a Greek drama or a Shakespearean character, Gov. Bruce Rauner will leave office as a tragic figure, felled by his overriding hubris -- excessive pride or self-confidence, arrogance -- that led to his political downfall.

Why Is Deerfield (Still) So White?

Nov 15, 2018
Art Shay / @Art Shay Archive, 2018

Commentary: A North Shore suburban native reflects on the community's troubled racial history.

J.B. Pritzker for Governor

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

Rachel Otwell / NPR Illinois

In an especially contentious election year, there are a couple alternatives to the major party candidates in the race for Illinois governor. But, even some backers of third parties say they aren’t great options either, though that’s not where they want the story to end.

Pritzker - Rauner
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The upcoming general election will decide whether Republican Bruce Rauner gets another term as Illinois governor or if the voters will choose to go with Democrat J.B. Pritzker.

But there’s one outcome of the election we already know for certain: Illinois will continue its experiment with amateur politicians running state government.

Question cards form Illinois Issues Forums
Sean Crawford / NPR Illinois

A statewide series of forums this year found plenty of concern about the direction Illinois is heading.  But we also found work is being done at the local level to solve some of the problems.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Archives

Voters this fall are choosing who will occupy the state’s two financial offices: treasurer and comptroller. Even during campaigns, these positions rarely get much attention. In fact, their very existence usually comes into question in proposals to merge the offices into one. Years ago, one person was in charge.

It all changed after a massive scandal filled with fast moves, fancy cars and fraud tarnished state government moneyhandling forever.


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