Amanda Vinicky

Statehouse Bureau Chief

Amanda Vinicky has covered Illinois politics and government for WUIS and the Illinois Public Radio network since 2006.  Highlights include reporting on the historic impeachment and removal from office of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, winning a national award for her coverage of Illinois' electric rate fight as a result of deregulation, and following Illinois' delegations to the Democratic and Republican national political conventions in '08 and '12.  

Though she's full-time with WUIS now, she previously interned with the station in graduate school; she graduated from the University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program in '05.  She also holds degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. 

Amanda is insatiably curious, so please reach out to her and get in touch if you notice something interesting going on at the Capitol! She can be reached at (217) 206-6019 or (773) 217-0316. If she's not in the statehouse bureau, you can usually find Amanda tweeting, dining at a local restaurant, taking a jog around Springfield or Chicago or practicing yoga. 

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Quinn: Will Create Jobs
3:07 pm
Mon June 17, 2013

Fracking Regulations Become Law

Illinois' fracking regulations divided the environmental community; while those like the Illinois Environmental Council signed on as proponents of the new law, others - like these activists - remain opposed.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

  Governor Pat Quinn has signed into law what's touted as the nation's toughest regulations on "fracking."  

 

High-volume hydraulic fracturing is a controversial process used to reach oil and natural gas deep underground.

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Guns and transparancy
7:41 am
Mon June 17, 2013

Concealed Carry Permit Board Not Subject To FOIA, Open Meetings

Josh Sharp, Government Relations Director for the Illinois Press Association
Credit courtesy of the Illinois Press Association

Governor Pat Quinn says he's reviewing a measure that would lift Illinois' long-standing concealed carry ban. It took legislators months to reach a compromise, and still gun control and gun rights activists both say they're not happy.   Other critics say they're upset about a lack of government transparency.

The concealed carry legislation approved late last month creates a seven-member board to review applications from people who want to be able to carry a gun in public.

Under the measure, that board would be exempt from the state's Freedom of Information Act.

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Higher Education
5:30 pm
Thu June 13, 2013

Republicans Propose Tuition Tax Breaks

Rep. Adam Brown (R-Champaign)
Credit Amanda Vinicky

With college tuition on the rise, Illinois House Republicans say they want to give working class families a break, and an incentive to go to a school in state.

 

Rep. Adam Brown graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign in 2007, but in that short time, tuition's steadily gone up.

BROWN: "The average cost for tuition, fees and books right now -- $26,000 and ten years ago that was $19,000.”

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Credit Downgrade
5:32 pm
Mon June 3, 2013

After No Pension Deal, Fitch Lowers Illinois' Credit Rating

Illinois' credit rating has suffered another downgrade.

It follows the General Assembly's adjournment Friday without any agreement on what to do about the state's pension systems.

 

A string of previous downgrades already left Illinois with the lowest bond rating in the nation.

None of those spurred legislators to reach a compromise - and there's no telling if this latest one will be any different.

Fitch lowered Illinois from an A to an A- rating, a status that means it may cost more when the state borrows money.

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Same sex marriage
12:41 am
Mon June 3, 2013

Gay Rights Activists Protest Sponsor

The sponsor of same sex marriage legislation is facing a backlash for not calling it for a vote before the General Assembly adjourned on Friday.  

 

Gay rights activists praised Rep. Greg Harris in 2011 for helping pass Illinois' civil unions law.

Some of those same activists are now criticizing him for how he's handled a measure to legalize same sex marriage.

Harris was tearful when he announced just before the House adjourned its spring session that there would be no vote because he didn't believe it could pass.

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End of session
4:22 am
Fri May 31, 2013

Unresolved Issues On Legislature's Final Day

The "rail" outside the General Assembly chambers is relatively empty the day before the 2013 spring session adjourns.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

Illinois has the worst funded pension system in the nation, and lawmakers have until today to do something about it.  The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn by midnight.  After that, it requires extra votes to get legislation to the governor's desk. Pensions are not the only thing left.  Plenty of other big-ticket policy issues are also unresolved.

                                                                      

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Pension Reform
12:26 am
Fri May 31, 2013

Pension Standoff Remains Heading Into Last Day Of Session

The Illinois Senate overwhelmingly rejected legislation on Thursday that would curtail government employees' and teachers' retirement benefits.

It raises the question of whether lawmakers will do anything to address Illinois' indebted retirement systems before they adjourn Friday night.

The pension-cutting legislation passed the House at the start of month.

But when it got a vote in the Senate yesterday, it didn't just fail - it plunged.  The Senate vote was 16 to 42.

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Pensions
7:00 am
Thu May 30, 2013

Pension Solution Eludes Top Democrats ... Still

Credit Amanda Vinicky

Even as the legislative session winds down -- its last day is Friday -- there's no agreement on a solution to the state's pension problem.   

It's not like the problem came out of nowhere.  The $100 billion dollars of unfunded liability accumulated over decades.

And legislators have been talking about what to do about it for years.   Especially this session.

The House and Senate each passed legislation to cut Illinois' costs by reducing state employees and teachers' retirement benefits.  But both measures are stalled in the opposite chamber.

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FY14 Budget
7:31 am
Wed May 29, 2013

Democrats Advance Kinder Budget

The bulk of a new state budget passed out of the Illinois House Tuesday, and now heads to the Senate. It's far less harsh than lawmakers had been predicting at the start of the legislative session. 

 

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Legislative Monitoring
8:18 pm
Tue May 28, 2013

The Tale Of A Startup - One That "Traks" Legislation

TrakBill Founder and President Steve Marciniak
Credit Profile courtesy of LinkedIn

More than six thousand bills are before the Illinois General Assembly this spring session.  Legislators have until Friday to get through them.

And with some of the biggest policy issues facing the state still outstanding, measures will move, change and die rapidly.   Amanda Vinicky spoke with a recent University of Illinois Urbana Champaign graduate has founded a company that aims to make it easier to follow what's happening at the capitol.   

Like so many endeavors, this one started small.

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End of session
7:33 am
Tue May 28, 2013

Four Days Left And Pensions, Guns, Gambling Unresolved

A downpour descends on the Illinois Capitol dome on Memorial Day, where legislators convened for the final week of the 2013 spring session.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

The legislative countdown continues, as Illinois' General Assembly is set to adjourn Friday.   Lawmakers spent their Memorial Day at the capitol, where little apparent progress was made on many of the outstanding issues.    The Senate met only briefly yesterday - the bulk of Senators' time was spent in private, partisan meetings.That's where they often make decisions on how to proceed on controversial issues. Like the budget. 

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Affordable Care Act
10:27 pm
Mon May 27, 2013

Crucial Plank Of Obamacare Passes Illinois House

In the waning days of its legislative session, Illinois took a major step toward implementing President Barack Obama's signature health care program.   That Democrats, who hold solid majorities in the General Assembly, waited until this late in the session is telling.

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Session Countdown
8:13 pm
Sun May 26, 2013

A Full Legislative Agenda With Only Five Days Left

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

There are five days left in the Illinois General Assembly's spring session. Legislators have a lot of work ahead of them.  The House adjourns on Memorial Day at noon; the Senate convenes at 4 p.m.

                   

  

                                       

Typically, fighting over the budget carries into the waning hours of a legislative session.

But Democrats - who have enough seats to pass a spending plan without any Republican votes - say they've already reached a deal.

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Pensions
8:27 am
Sat May 25, 2013

Is There Justice In Leaving Judges' Pensions Unscathed?

Credit Illinois Supreme Court

Illinois lawmakers remain at odds over how to handle the state's $100 billion of pension debt.  But there's a chance that this spring the General Assembly may finally do something about it.  After years of no major action, there are not one, but two major packages designed to reign in Illinois' retirement costs.  The House and Senate passed competing plans.  Both of them seek to save Illinois money by cutting current and retired government workers' benefits.  But one important group of government workers are being left out of both deals - judges.

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FY14 Budget
10:17 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

Comptroller Tells Lawmakers To Get Thrifty

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, wearing the designer dress she purchased at Goodwill.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

Illinois' stack of overdue bills is smaller, thanks to stronger-than expected tax revenues.  But as lawmakers begin finalizing a new state budget, one of the state's chief fiscal officers is cautioning lawmakers to get thrifty.  

Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka's wearing a purple, long-sleeved knit dress.  It's by St. John's, a designer label whose dresses retail for about $800. Topinka brags she got it for $7 at Goodwill.

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Sexual Education
10:05 pm
Wed May 22, 2013

Bill: No More Abstinence Only Sex Ed In Schools

Schools that have sexual education classes would have to go beyond "abstinence-only" under a measure Illinois legislators sent the governor. The plan seeks to ensure students are getting medically accurate and age appropriate information.

                                                       

The measure does not require schools to offer sex ed courses.

But if they do ... the legislation mandates that middle and high schools include information about birth control.

Senator Linda Holmes is a Democrat, from Aurora:

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Pensions
5:45 pm
Tue May 21, 2013

House: Senate Plan Only Knocks 5-Percent Off Pension Debt

Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), left, and Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) say an analysis shows the Senate's pension bill saves about half of what was originally projected.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

A state pension overhaul backed by government employee unions may save only half of what advocates had promised.  That underscores an ongoing battle between the House and Senate over pensions, with only ten days left in the legislative session.  

 

There's general agreement on this much: that Illinois' public pension systems have $100 billion dollars in unfunded liabilities.  That's a fancy word that basically means "debt."

It's a big number that's getting Illinois in trouble with bond houses and eating into the state's budget.

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FY14 Budget
6:40 am
Mon May 20, 2013

Legislators' Budget Plans Expected To Cut Deeper Than Quinn's

Rep. Greg Harris (D-13), courtesy ILGA.gov
Credit ILGA.gov

Despite years of cuts to the Illinois state budget ... even more are ahead.  Legislators are still deciding where else they can slash spending.

 

"Human services" is a legislative phrase Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) says covers:

HARRIS: "All the state departments  dealing with health care, senior services, children services, so the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Medicaid, human services, mental health, substance abuse, Department of Aging, DCFS, public health and veterans... "

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Pension Cost Shift
5:47 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Universities Agree To Pay Pension Tab

SIU President Glenn Poshard, left, and U of I President Robert Easter, center, testify at a House hearing Thursday on the pension cost shift.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Illinois universities and community colleges have signed on to a deal that would have them pick up the cost of their employees' retirement benefits.  It's part of lawmakers' ongoing efforts to reduce how much the state is spending on pensions. 

Illinois has cut its spending on universities for years ... and even more reductions are expected next year.

School administrators say it's forced them to hike tuition, and to leave positions unfilled.

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Illinois Hires Tax Credit
5:58 pm
Wed May 15, 2013

Fracking Deal Back On Track

Environmentalists who oppose any form of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in Illinois protest at the Capitol in March.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

After several stumbles, an agreement  has been reached on how to regulate "fracking" in Illinois.  A House committee could vote on the package Thursday morning.  

  The oil and natural gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing has been a boon for job creation in places like  North Dakota and Pennsylvania.

State legislators want the same in Illinois.

As do oil and gas drillers looking to make a handsome profit.

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Guns Blazing
11:01 am
Tue May 7, 2013

NRA Lobbyist: 50/50 Chance For A Concealed Carry Law By Deadline

When a federal court declared Illinois' ban on letting people carry guns in public unconstitutional ... it also gave legislators an assignment: pass a concealed carry law by June 9. Lawmakers are in continued negotiations, but so far gun rights' activists have been unable to reach an agreement with those who favor stricter gun control.  Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is doubtful they will ... at least in time.  He fears that could leave Illinois temporarily without ANY real limits on who can carry a gun, and where.

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Madigan v. Cullerton
7:18 am
Fri May 3, 2013

Public Pensions' Fate Rests Largely With Divided Democratic Leaders

A plan that will leave state employees and teachers with reduced retirement benefits made it out of the Illinois House Thursday, potentially paving the way for the pension overhaul that has thus far eluded lawmakers.  But it also ignites a face-off between two of the state's top Democrats — with the potential to keep a pension overhaul as elusive as it's ever been.

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Spring session predictions
9:27 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

Same Sex Marriage Stalls, But Fracking A Go

Illinois' legislators have less than a month before they're scheduled to adjourn.  The Speaker of the Illinois House made some predictions about what will — and what may not — happen before then.

A measure to legalize same sex marriage in Illinois already got state Senators' approval.

But the Speaker of the Illinois House says there's not enough support for it to pass in that chamber.

Mike Madigan said in March that gay marriage was a dozen votes shy in the House. 

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Statehouse Bureau
1:17 pm
Thu May 2, 2013

Lawmakers Weigh In On Olympic Wrestling

Illinois lawmakers are "weighing in" on Olympic organizers' decision to drop wrestling from the summer games. 

The Illinois House passed a resolution encouraging the International Olympic Committee to reinstate wrestling as an Olympic sport.   The state Senate is poised to do the same.

Former U-S House Speaker Denny Hastert made a special appearance in Springfield for it.  Hastert was a wrestling coach in Yorkville before he went on to Congress.  He says it's important to give young people the opportunity to reach for an Olympic dream. 

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Statehouse Bureau
6:55 am
Thu May 2, 2013

Return the Sick Puppy in the Window

Consumers who unwittingly buy a diseased animal from a pet store could get their money back under a measure approved by the Illinois Senate. 

 

It's similar to someone who buys a jalopy under false pretenses. But in this case, the "lemon" isn't a car.

It's a puppy. Or a kitten.

Someone who buys a dog or cat could get a refund, exchange their pet for a new one, or seek reimbursement for veterinarians' fees.

But only if the pet came from a pet shop.  That bothers Republican Senator Dale Righter of Mattoon, as those dogs can cost $1,000.

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Statehouse Bureau
6:27 am
Thu May 2, 2013

Democratic Leaders Backing Opposing Pension Plans

Union leaders testify against House Speaker Michael Madigan's pension plan in a House committee Wednesday, as Madigan looks on behind them.
Credit Amanda Vinicky

The Illinois House is poised to vote Thursday on an overhaul of the state's pension systems. The plan easily advanced out of a House committee Wednesday morning. But the Senate's working on different method. 

Wednesday began with a widespread feeling that after more than a year of failed attempts to reduce the state's pension debt, House Speaker Michael Madigan's proposal might be it. 

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Pensions
11:56 am
Wed May 1, 2013

Madigan Pension Overhaul Headed to House Floor

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago)

The Illinois House is poised to vote Thursday on an overhaul of the state's pension systems. It would reduce state workers', teachers', and university employees' future retirement benefits. The plan easily advanced out of a House committee Wednesday morning. 

There's a feeling in the capitol that after countless attempts to reduce the state's pension debt, this may be it. Insiders say it's significant that the plan's sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan — who rarely takes action without having support locked up. 

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Statehouse Bureau
6:23 am
Wed May 1, 2013

AFSCME Taking Second Vote On State Contract

Credit afscme31.org

Illinois’ new deal with the state’s largest public employees union could be null and void.   The union is going to take a second vote on its contract agreement with Governor Pat Quinn’s administration.  Amanda Vinicky reports from the WUIS Statehouse Bureau.

It took 15 months for AFSCME to reach an agreement.   They finally got a deal in late February.

But AFSCME says because a key condition of the settlement has not been met,  it will ask members if they still want to proceed with the new contract.

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