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Legislative scholarship program may be killed

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SPRINGFIELD — A measure that would end the abused Illinois General Assembly Legislative Scholarship Program is one step closer to becoming law.

By Stephanie Fryer

SPRINGFIELD — A measure that would end the abused Illinois General Assembly Legislative Scholarship Program is one step closer to becoming law.

House Bill 3810 passed out of the Illinois Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday. It would end the program next year.

"The best thing we can do right now is to get our state budget under control and begin to fund our state universities properly once again," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont. The Senate Republicans have supported eliminating the program this entire session.

Wednesday's approval comes after Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, picked up sponsorship of the bill, switching his opposition to killing the program entirely. His bill also includes a provision that sets up a task force to examine all university tuition waivers totaling more than $300 million.

"I am so glad the Senate President has brought the amendment. I think it really strengthens the bill," said Emily Miller, policy and government affairs coordinator with the Better Government Association, a nonprofit government watchdog group. BGA has worked on several investigations showcasing legislator abuse of the scholarship program.

The scholarship program received media attention when lawmakers were found to be distributing the funds to children of friends, political backers and staff members, attending in-state universities.

"There's a lot of good reasons to keep it, but obviously it's become a distraction here with a small number of people abusing it," Cullerton said about the $13 million program.

Those wanting to keep the program alive said killing it penalizes students for the mistakes of one or two lawmakers.

"You have 177 members in the General Assembly, but you can narrow (the abuse) to one to there members that may have had mishaps for whatever reason. But what that does is it penalizes students," state Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Chicago, said.

The House already voted to eliminate the scholarship program, but since an amendment was added, the bill will head back for another vote by the chamber.

It also will head to the Senate for a full chamber vote. It passed the Senate Executive Subcommittee on Education 2-0 early Wednesday morning.

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