Legislative chamber at the Illinois Statehouse in Springfield.
Flickr: m_t_t (Matt Turner)
December 31, 2015

Illinois Issues: New Year, New Laws

Despite their continued stalemate on a budget, lawmakers approved and Governor Bruce Rauner signed hundreds of new pieces of legislation. More than 200 laws will go into effect in Illinois at the start of the new year — roughly the number that went into effect at the start of each of the past two years. Jamey Dunn talks about the state's new laws with Sean Crawford.

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Jeff Roberson/AP)
December 27, 2013

IDOT Reveals 70 MPH Areas On Illinois Interstates

Illinois transportation officials have announced locations along interstates where the speed limit will increase to 70 mph.

The Illinois Department of Transportation says about 87 percent of interstate highways and 98 percent of rural interstates under its jurisdiction will be increased to 70 mph. A new law takes effect Jan. 1 increasing the maximum speed limit on Illinois interstates to 70 mph.
IDOT officials say crews will start installing 70 mph signs and removing 65 mph signs in early January.
Transportation officials urge motorists to obey posted speed limits. They say the 70 mph speed limit will be in effect on segments of Illinois interstates that can accommodate the higher speed while maintaining safety.
About 28 percent of the Illinois Tollway's 286-mile system will be increased to 70 mph.

An employee stands at the Microsoft booth during the 2013 Computex in Taipei on June 4, 2013.
October 02, 2013

U.S. Opposes Tech Firms' Plea To Release Surveillance Requests

The United States filed a court brief (pdf) opposing the release of details concerning the surveillance requests they hand big tech companies in the U.S.

As we reported back in August, Microsoft and Google were trying to reach an agreement with the government about what they could reveal about national security requests for customer data. When tech companies receive those requests, they also come with a gag order, making it illegal for them to tell their customer or anyone else about the request from the government.

Those talks crumbled and the companies moved forward with a lawsuit filed in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, demanding the ability to publish information clearly showing the number of demands for user content like the text of an email.

"Unless this type of information is made public, any discussion of government practices and service provider obligations will remain incomplete," Brad Smith, a Microsoft vice president and general counsel, said in a blog post.

In a Sept. 30 filing with the court responding to the lawsuit, the Justice Department argued that releasing too much information about its requests would risk revealing its "sources and methods of intelligence collection, including the Government's ability (or inability) to conduct surveillance on particular electronic communication service providers or platforms."

"Releasing information that could induce adversaries to shift communication platforms in order to avoid surveillance would cause serious harm to the national security interests of the United States," the government said.

The tech companies have argued that by issuing gag orders, the government is denying them of their First Amendment rights. But the government dismissed that, saying the information they want to disclose is classified, therefore not covered by the First.

All Things D reports on the tech firms' response:

"Google said in a statement today, 'We're disappointed that the Department of Justice opposed our petition for greater transparency around FISA requests for user information. We also believe more openness in the process is necessary since no one can fully see what the government has presented to the court.'

"And Microsoft: 'We will continue to press for additional transparency, which is critical to understanding the facts and having an informed debate about the right balance between personal privacy and national security.'"

The front of the postal card that potential jurors in Champaign County will get. A QR code is displayed, which directs people to the website with the questionnaire.
(Champaign County Circuit Clerk)
September 19, 2013

Champaign County Upgrades Jury Questionnaires

Jury selection questionnaires are getting a face-lift in Champaign County.

The county sends out about 13,000 paper questionnaires each year with a self-addressed postage stamp, but Circuit Clerk Katie Blakeman said only about 30 percent of them are returned

Under the new system, people will receive postcards that give them the option to fill out the questionnaire online, by text message, or through an automated phone system. Blakeman said she hopes this new digital format increases the response rate, and leads to a more diverse jury pool.

“We will hopefully then have a larger pool from which to draw, whch would hopefully assist in the formation of juries that are more representative of the makeup of our community,” Blakeman said.

Blakeman estimated the new system will save the county roughly $5,000 a year in mailing and printing costs. She also said when people are summoned for jury duty, they will have the option to sign up for e-mail or text message alerts notifying them if they don’t have to show up to court the next day.

September 12, 2013

Illinois Supreme Court Overturns Gun Conviction, Keeps Ban For Minors

Illinois' old law banning the concealed carry of firearms took another hit Thursday.

A federal court already found it unconstitutional last year. Now the Illinois Supreme Court has taken the same position.

Alberto Aguilar was 17 when Chicago police arrested him for having a loaded handgun with the serial number scratched off.

He was convicted of unlawfully possessing a firearm and sentenced to 24 months probation.

While his appeal was pending before the Illinois Supreme Court, a federal court in Chicago struck down Illinois' ban on public gun possession, finding it violated the U.S. Constitution. The Illinois legislature also legalized concealed carry starting next year.

Fast forward to the present day, and the Illinois Supreme Court is taking the same view on gun rights.

Ultimately, however, the decision is mixed for Aguilar. Although his conviction under the possession law was overturned, he was also convicted of a different crime, under a law that says it's illegal for minors to have guns. The Illinois Supreme Court says that behavior is not protected by the Constitution, and upheld the conviction.

The case is People v. Aguilar (pdf).

In a separate decision Thursday, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled a 1992 conviction for domestic battery should not necessarily prohibit a man from getting his Firearm Owners Identification card.

That case is Coram v. State of Illinois (pdf).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
(Charles Dharapak/AP)
August 30, 2013

Justice Ginsburg To Officiate Same-Sex Wedding

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is performing a same-sex wedding this weekend in what is believed to be a first for a member of the nation's highest court.

Ginsburg is officiating at the marriage of Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser and John Roberts, a government economist, on Saturday. Kaiser says he asked Ginsburg to officiate because she is a longtime friend.

The private ceremony is taking place at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a memorial to President John F. Kennedy. The 80-year-old Ginsburg, an opera lover, is a frequent guest at the center.

Justices generally avoid taking stands on political issues. The wedding, though, comes after the court's landmark ruling in June to expand federal recognition of same-sex marriages, striking down part of an anti-gay marriage law.

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
August 29, 2013

President To Issue New Executive Orders On Guns

The White House says President Obama will issue two new executive orders on guns — one to curb the import of military surplus weapons and another that closes a loophole allowing some felons to get around background checks.

The two actions — to be announced by Vice President Joe Biden at the swearing-in of Todd Jones, the new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — will join 23 others that the president has issued in an effort to reduce gun violence.

They are part of a set of recommendations from the vice president unveiled in January.

"Even as Congress fails to act on common-sense proposals, like expanding criminal background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime, the President and Vice President remain committed to using all the tools in their power to make progress toward reducing gun violence," the White House said in a statement on Thursday.

According to the statement, "felons, domestic abusers, and others prohibited from having guns" can skirt background checks by registering the weapon as a trust or corporation.

"The proposed rule requires individuals associated with trusts or corporations that acquire these types of weapons to undergo background checks, just as these individuals would if the weapons were registered to them individually," the statement says.

The second would halt a practice of special approvals to import U.S.-made military weapons from other countries. The White House says since 2005, the government has authorized the re-importation of more than 250,000 such firearms.

The new policy would "deny requests to bring military-grade firearms back into the United States to private entities, with only a few exceptions such as for museums," the statement says.

Pat Brady
(Seth Perlman/AP)
August 27, 2013

ACLU Hires Former Illinois GOP Chair To Lobby For Same-Sex Marriage

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has hired former state Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady to lobby for a same-sex marriage bill in Springfield, months after his own support of same-sex marriage sparked a controversy that led to his resignation.

The ACLU confirmed Tuesday that it has hired Next Generation Public Affairs, the lobbying and public relations firm Brady co-founded after he left his party job in May.

“I think the very core of the conservative movement, which I consider myself a part of, is application of equality under the law for all,” Brady said Tuesday in an interview with Illinois Public radio station, WBEZ in Chicago.

Brady will focus on lobbying House Republicans in hopes of getting the same-sex marriage bill passed during this fall’s veto session, he said. He will also tap the political donors he cultivated during his four years as party chairman to raise money for groups that support gay marriage, and for Republican lawmakers who may be hesitant to cast a yes vote, fearing a challenge in next year’s primary.

Brady’s hiring comes after the ACLU launched a $10 million national push in June, aimed at winning support for same-sex marriage from Republican lawmakers and voters in a handful of states, including Illinois.

Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist who was formerly a top advisor to Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, is heading up the national effort.

Brady declined to say how much the ACLU is paying him.

He quit his unpaid party post May 6, following a months-long controversy sparked by his public support of same-sex marriage, a stance which contradicts the GOP platform. Brady rankled some party bosses on the State Central Committee when he announced his support for the bill without telling them first.

He survived an attempt to oust him in April, but there was a quiet agreement reached among party bosses that he would leave later on his own terms.

Despite the past controversy, Brady now said he has no problem working for the liberal ACLU, even if it means taking flak from social conservatives.

“Liberty, freedom and equality under the law are all things that Republicans and conservatives have believed in for a long, long time,” he said. “So I don’t have any qualms with that, and I really excited  to help work with them and get this done right in Illinois.”

Illinois’ same-sex marriage bill cleared the State Senate on Valentine’s Day, with Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) casting the lone GOP yes vote. A push to call the measure for a vote in the State House fizzled in the final hours of the spring session, after supporters backed off because they thought it might fail.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has said he will sign the bill into law if it gets to his desk.

But getting a same-sex marriage bill through the Democrat-controlled State House may require Republican votes, as not all Democrats support it. The two GOP State Representatives who are publicly supporting the bill, Ron Sandack of suburban Downers Grove and Ed Sullivan Jr., of Mundelein, say there are a handful of Republicans who might be persuaded to vote yes.

Meanwhile, the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage, has vowed to spend money to defeat Republican lawmakers who vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

But there are also plenty of deep-pocketed GOP donors ready to support those lawmakers in the March 18 primary, Brady said.

“There’s gonna be, I think, plenty of money to help those people,” he said.

Illinois’ political calendar has made the future of the same-sex marriage bill more difficult to predict.

The bill could be called for a vote when lawmakers head back to Springfield for their fall veto session in late October and early November.

But state lawmakers will not find out until Nov. 18 whether they will have challengers in March’s primary, which could make some lawmakers hesitant to cast a controversial vote before knowing whether there will be someone to use it against them in next year’s primary.

August 26, 2013

Law Lowers Required Age For Students To Attend School

Gov. Pat Quinn has signed a law lowering the required age that Illinois students must attend school.

The law takes effect in the 2014-2015 school year. It lowers the compulsory age from 7 to 6.

Quinn signed the bill Sunday at a school on Chicago's West Side. Monday marks the first day of school for hundreds of thousands of students in Chicago Public Schools.

Quinn says the bill will help students get an early start on their education.

The bill was pushed to lower absenteeism in elementary school.  About half of the states have a compulsory age of 6.

Opponents, including Republicans, had questioned the cost.

August 22, 2013

Justice Department To Sue Texas Over Voter ID Law

The Justice Department says it will sue Texas over the state's voter ID law and will seek to intervene in a lawsuit over the state's redistricting laws.

Attorney General Eric Holder says the action marks another step in the effort to protect voting rights of all eligible Americans. He said the government will not allow the Supreme Court's recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.

On June 25, the Supreme Court threw out the most powerful part of the Voting Rights Act, whose enactment in 1965 marked a major turning point in black Americans' struggle for equal rights and political power.

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