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Morning headlines: Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The dome of the Ill. Capitol.
The dome of the Ill. Capitol.

Spring session kicks off today in Illinois

Legislative leaders say budget items are expected to top the agenda in the coming weeks. Those items include the state's troubled pension system and Medicaid costs.

House Deputy Majority leader, Democrat Frank Mautino, says Medicaid reform could end up being more controversial than pensions. Mautino says payment cycles are stretching too long and that cuts have to be made.

"There will have to be changes in who will be eligible," said Mautino. "And I think that's where the biggest and hardest discussion is, because about 52 percent of everything we do is human services budget, and a large portion of that is the Medicaid."

Mautino says lawmakers could also find time to review Illinois' tax code during the spring session.

Mo. Senator proposes amendment subjecting state apportionment commissions to open meeting laws

Jason Crowell, of Cape Girardeau, says the committee in charge of redrawing the state's legislative districts should open its meetings and records to the public. He testified before a Senate panel Monday for a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution subjecting state apportionment commissions to the state's open meeting laws.

New districts for the House were developed by a panel of appeals court judges last year after a bipartisan commission deadlocked. The House map is being challenged by a group claiming the districts aren't sufficiently compact and have unequal populations. The group also alleges a violation of the open meeting law.  If approved by the full Senate and House, Crowell's proposed amendment would go on a statewide ballot.

Kirk improving

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is continuing to improve after a major stroke and has been upgraded to fair condition.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital neurosurgeon Richard Fessler says Kirk is alert, talking and responding well to questions.  The Chicago hospital released a statement yesterday about Kirk's progress, a little more than a week after he suffered a stroke that's affected his left side. Fessler says doctors are very pleased with Kirk's progress.  

Kirk is 52 and was in good health when he was stricken. Doctors believe a clot developed from a tear in an artery in his neck and lodged in his brain. Doctors removed part of his skull to relieve pressure and allow the brain to swell.