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Illinois at 12 a.m.

Ashley Heher is staffing the desk, followed by Don Babwin. They can be reached at 312-781-0500. For access to AP Exchange and other technical issues, contact AP Customer Support at or 877-836-9477.



CHICAGO — When superrich Republican Bruce Rauner announced plans last year to run for governor of Illinois, it was clear this wouldn't be the kind of race to which the state was accustomed. Rauner, who made his fortune as a venture capitalist, was new to campaigning and bragged of being beholden to no one. He came out swinging at entrenched special interests and "union bosses" with an intensity not seen before. Organized labor, which has long had cordial relations with state Republicans, went to full battle stations, pumping millions of dollars into a television advertising offensive to counter the new threat in advance of the March 18 primary. The furious pace and extraordinary cost of a race weeks before the general election field is even set is demonstrating what can happen when a wealthy businessman decides he wants to run a state, and of how unions can react when they feel especially threatened. By Sara Burnett. SENT: 900 words, photos CX401, CX404, ILARL401, ILCAR401, ILCAR402.


—ILLINOIS GOVERNOR-DILLARD: A union-backed group is spending more than $700,000 to promote state Sen. Kirk Dillard in the Republican primary for Illinois governor.


ST. LOUIS — A southern Illinois retiree whose legal fight helped bring about an end to the state's last-in-the-nation ban on concealed-carry is among the state's first to get her permit to have a handgun in public. Mary Shepard considers the permit from the Illinois State Police a reward for her legal push after a 2009 church attack that left her severely beaten while unarmed. "I was just so over-the-top thrilled and unbelievably happy," Shepard, 74, says of getting the permit. "I had waited so long for this, and I felt like I accomplished something. I couldn't wait to tell everyone." By Jim Suhr. SENT: 580 words, photos ILCAR501, ILBLO501.



SPRINGFIELD — Illinois' public university presidents spelled out a doomsday scenario of cuts should the state's temporary tax increase expire as scheduled next January, a move they say would disproportionately affect the number of low-income students while others flee to schools outside the state. The state currently allocates $3.3 billion for higher education. But Illinois expects a $1.5 billion loss of revenue if the individual income tax rates roll back in 2015 from 5 percent to 3.75 percent and corporate rates drop from 7 percent to 5.25 percent. Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard told a Senate appropriations committee that higher education institutions are bracing for a 30 percent decrease in funding next year, which would mean increases in student-to faculty ratios, fewer course offerings and graduate assistantship programs and more classes being taught by adjunct professors instead of tenured professors. By Kerry Lester. SENT: 440 words.


—ILLINOIS COURTS-BUDGET: An Illinois state senator is suggesting lowering starting salaries for judges in Illinois.


CHICAGO — The only televised debate for the four Republicans seeking the office of Illinois lieutenant governor delved into the candidates' diverse backgrounds and the controversies surrounding their gubernatorial running mates. Most of the No. 2 governor candidates are relatively little known statewide, but it's the first year in Illinois history that they're running with gubernatorial candidates and their roles have been more in the spotlight. The 30-minute forum at Chicago's WTTW-TV focused on issues that have dogged the duos — including lawsuits, union endorsements and big money— ahead of the March 18 primary election. By Sophia Tareen. SENT: 740 words, photos ILQHW501, CX101-103.


CHICAGO — While many Illinois counties are waiting until the state's new same-sex marriage becomes law in June and others are waiting for legal advice, the list of counties that will start issuing the licenses immediately is growing. Responding to Attorney General Lisa Madigan's letter to a central Illinois county clerk this week that said clerks were within their legal rights if they wanted to issue the licenses before June 1, clerks in Cass and St. Clair counties said they were doing just that. And the clerk in Jackson County said Thursday he, too, expects to start issuing the licenses. SENT: 320 words.



SPRINGFIELD — While a child advocacy group's report shows that more Illinois kids now have health insurance, it also warns that health disparities related to income and race could intensify if there are program cuts to Medicaid and social services as the state faces a large dip in revenues next year. The yearly report released by Voices for Illinois Children shows children that are black, Latino or from low-income families have less access to health care and insurance. Officials with the nonpartisan organization said if lawmakers don't sustain funding for Medicaid and other programs for families in need, the disparities could worsen. The state income tax is set to expire next year, leaving a $1.5 billion hole in the 2015fiscal year budget. By Chacour Koop. SENT: 440 words.


URBANA — University of Illinois trustees voted to add coverage for sex change operations and treatment to the health insurance plan used by many students at the flagship campus. About 28,000 of the Urbana-Champaign campus' 40,000-plus students use the insurance. To cover the cost of the sex change coverage, undergraduates next fall will pay $2 more per semester for the insurance, while graduate students will pay $3 more. Trustees, who govern the three university campuses, added sex change coverage at the Chicago campus last year after some students requested it. The Springfield campus' insurance plan does not offer such coverage. By David Mercer. SENT: 475 words.


CHICAGO — Mayors of some of America's biggest cities say municipalities are driving the county's economic growth but have been abandoned by leaders in Washington, D.C. Bill de Blasio of New York, Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Kasim Reed of Atlanta spoke at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics. The four Democrats say their cities face challenges such as education, pension debt, outdated infrastructure and income inequality. They say they know they're largely on their own to solve problems because federal funding has dried up. Emanuel says Washington is "totally AWOL" on issues concerning the cities. By Sara Burnett. SENT: 440 words.


NEW YORK — Adam Lambert has never paid attention to the haters, and he won't start now as the lead singer for the rock band Queen on their upcoming summer tour."You just can't focus on that crap, especially in today's day and age, the Internet, and everybody has an opinion and a comment. That's not why we do this," Lambert told The Associated Press. Lambert first performed with Queen in 2009 when he was a contestant on "American Idol," where he placed second. Queen will embark on a summer tour with Lambert as its frontman. SENT: 600 words, photos NYCS103-105.


MATTOON — Mattoon couple Fred and Gretchen Decker found a final destination for a detailed, handcrafted wooden train they've owned for more than a decade. The Deckers donated the piece to the Mattoon Arts Council and city Department of Tourism and Arts and it is on display at their offices at the Illinois Central Railroad Depot. The couple says they're glad to pass it on. "It's something that needs to be somewhere it can be appreciated," Mrs. Decker said. "It's a good legacy for many generations to come to enjoy." By Kayleigh Zyskowski. Journal-Gazette and Times-Courier. SENT: 440 words, photos ILMAT501-502.


—DRUG WAR-CHICAGO: A reputed lieutenant of recently captured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is scheduled to change his plea to guilty in a federal trafficking case in Chicago.

—COMMITTMENT HEARING: A psychologist has told a McHenry County judge that a repeat sex offender poses a considerable risk of re-offending if released.

—INTERNET TAX-HULTGREN: An Illinois congressman wants to extend a measure that currently prevents state and local governments from taxing Internet services.

—ANCIENT MOUNDS-TOURISM: A group is closing out its public comment period on a push to get an ancient southwestern Illinois historical site designated as a national park.

—ILLINOIS LOTTERY-MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS: Proceeds from the newest Illinois Lottery game will be used to fund research into multiple sclerosis.

—ILLINOIS RIVER-FERRIES REOPEN: Two ferries that regularly cross the Illinois River in western Illinois are back in business after being shut down due to adverse river conditions.

—HIGH SCHOOL POETRY CONTEST: Sixteen high school students from around Illinois will compete for the state championship in an annual poetry performance contest.

—RARE BOOK: A rare book of French botanical art has found a home in the Sterling Morton Library at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois.

—ILLINOIS PENSIONS-LAWSUIT: A fifth lawsuit has been filed by state employees challenging Illinois' new pension law.

—SWANSEA-SCHOOL BULLYING: The U.S. Department of Education's Civil Rights Division is investigating allegations of racially motivated bullying at a southern Illinois school.

—ILLINOIS-UNEMPLOYMENT: The Illinois Department of Employment Security says the state's unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in January, down from the previous month's revised rate of 8.9 percent.

—GOODWILL DONATION-CASH FOUND: A southwestern Illinois Goodwill store sorting out whether $2,500 found in a donation pile was accidentally left or a gift isn't having any trouble attracting people wanting to cash in.

—STREET GANG-SENTENCING: A Latin Kings street-gang leader in Chicago has been convicted of ordering an enforcer to smash the hands of a subordinate with a hammer and other crimes.

—ILLINOIS BUDGET-SENATE: The Illinois Senate is predicting $1 billion less to spend in the state's upcoming budget year.

—BOMB THREAT: A man has been arrested on charges that he made a false bomb threat at a suburban Chicago courthouse.



SEATTLE — Boeing Co. said it is freezing the traditional defined-benefit pensions for 68,000 nonunion employees - including managers and executives - starting in 2016. The Chicago-based aerospace company said in a statement that the employees will transition to a company-funded defined contribution retirement plan, effective Jan. 1, 2016. They will have a 401(k)-style retirement plan similar to what union machinists approved in a contentious contract-extension vote earlier this year. Nonunion Boeing employees hired since 2009 have not had a traditional defined pension plan. SENT: 280 words.


—ARTHUR J GALLAGHER-ILLINOIS: Illinois is promising more than $20 million in performance-based incentives to an insurance brokerage company that was considering a move out of state. Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. will move from one Chicago suburb to another.



SURPRISE, Ariz. — Jose Abreu hit his first home run as a Chicago White Sox split-squad and the Kansas City Royals tied 6-6. The Cuban defector who signed with the White Sox for six years and $68 million in October, connected for a two-run shot into Chicago's bullpen in right field off Brad Penny in the fifth inning. Abreu hit 30 or more home runs in three consecutive seasons in Cuba. He also hit .360 with six home runs in 25 at-bats in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. "It was a fastball outside and I was able to put a very good swing on it," Abreu said through an interpreter. "It was my best contact of the spring so far. ... I hit them all over the field. SENT: 640 words.


GLENDALE, Ariz. — Fernando Rodney gave up a run and two hits in his debut with the Seattle but Jesus Montero had two singles and an RBI to help the Mariners beat a Chicago White Sox split-squad 7-4. "He threw the ball very well," manager Lloyd McClendon said of the closer who signed with Seattle on Feb. 13. "The ball came out good. He made some good pitches and saw the small end of the bat a couple of times and they got hits, but I was happy with how the ball came out." Montero's second hit came in the seventh to cap the Mariners' three-run, go-ahead rally. Montero is coming back from a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal and season-ending knee surgery.


GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Travis Wood could be in position to pitch for the Chicago Cubs on opening day and if his first start at spring training is any indication, he's going to make it a tough decision for manager Rick Renteria. Wood gave up one hit and struck out three in three scoreless innings as the Cubs fell to the Cleveland Indians 1-0. "It was a good day today, pitches were working," Wood said. "I got away with a couple and (center field Albert) Almora made a great play but, you know, it was just nice to get out there." Wood, who threw 200 innings last year and was an All-Star, had his first scheduled start rained out last Saturday and pitched a two-inning simulated game instead. By Steve DiMatteo. SENT: 490 words.


CHICAGO — Andrew Shaw and Jonathan Toews had two goals apiece, and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-1. Brandon Bollig and Bryan Bickell also scored as Chicago bounced back from a 4-2 home loss to Colorado on Tuesday night. Corey Crawford made 22 saves for his 10th consecutive victory against Columbus. Ryan Johansen scored his 25th goal for the Blue Jackets, who had won three in a row. Sergei Bobrovsky made 14 stops before he was pulled during the Blackhawks' three-goal second period. The Stanley Cup champions had managed just eight goals while dropping three of four, and five of those came against Pittsburgh at Soldier Field on Saturday. By Jay Cohen. SENT: 800 words, photos CXA102-103, CXA105-107.


CHICAGO — Alex Barlow scored a career-high 19 points to lead Butler to a 79-46 victory over DePaul. Khyle Marshall added 18 points for Butler as the Bulldogs put an end to a season-high seven-game losing streak. Brandon Young led DePaul with 24 points. The Blue Demons will end the Big East regular season with at least a share of last place for the sixth straight season. DePaul finished 1 of 18 from 3-point range. Despite a game featuring the conference's bottom two teams, Butler dominated DePaul in every aspect. The Bulldogs opened the game with an 18-4 lead. Barlow scored eight points in the span and Marshall drove the lane for two uncontested dunks. By Patrick Rose. SENT: 700 words.


EVANSTON — D.J. Newbill scored 12 points and Penn State's zone defense stifled Northwestern in the Nittany Lions' 59-32 rout. Penn State's 2-3 zone defense frustrated Northwestern the entire game. Northwestern shot 23.3 percent from the field and went 3 of 22 behind the arc, finishing with their lowest point total and 3-point percentage of the season. Balanced scoring helped the Nittany Lions pick apart Northwestern's defense. Tim Frazier and Brandon Taylor, each of whom scored 11 points, were two of eight different players to score for Penn State. The Nittany Lions shot 50 percent from the field. By Meghan Montemurro. SENT. 730 words, photos ILNH101-108.


—BKW--B10-NORTHWESTERN-OHIO ST: Ameryst Alston scored 30 points and Darryce Moore and Martina Ellerbe had double-doubles as eighth-seeded Ohio State pulled away in the closing minutes to defeat ninth-seeded Northwestern 86-77 in the opening game of the Big 10 Tournament.

—BKW--T25-B10-ILLINOIS-IOWA: Bethany Doolittle scored a career-high 26 points, hitting 10 of 14 shots, as fifth-seeded and 23rd-ranked Iowa defeat Illinois 81-62 in the first round of the Big 10 tournament.

—BKC--IDAHO-CHICAGO ST: Connor Hill paced Idaho with 27 points and hit two key free throws with seconds remaining in helping Idaho edge Chicago State 79-76.


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