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Illinois Legislative Scholarship Ban Advances In House, But Bill's Future Is Uncertain

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A bill aimed at dismantling Illinois's abuse-ridden legislative scholarship program last week was approved by the state House, but its future in the Senate remains uncertain even as Gov. Pat Quinn has reiterated his opposition to the program.

The Illinois House voted last Wednesday in support of abolishing the program -- which they have done before only to be blocked by the Senate.

This time around, however, state Rep. Fred Crespo (D-Hoffman Estates) said he is optimistic, as the bill's House sponsor, that the state Senate will follow their lead on the issue, the State Journal-Register reports. Still, Patty Schuh, a spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), appears less confident.

"We do fear it will meet the same fate as all of our other efforts," Schuh told the Journal-Register.

On Monday, Gov. Quinn reiterated his call for the legislative scholarships --or "political scholarships" -- to be abolished.

"Where we really need to have the resources put is into those who are needy and deserving. They may not have political connections, but those are the students we should focus on," the governor told the GateHouse News Service. "I hope the Senate president calls that bill that passed the House. It has in the past passed the House. It’s time for the Senate to act."

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) told Progress Illinois that Cullerton does not plan to interfere with the bill's fate in the state Senate. He has previously indicated that he opposed a ban on the controversial scholarships, preferring instead to reform the program.

"Like any other bill, it will go through the normal committee process and there will be an opportunity for a vote," Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said.

Cullerton, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, poured more than $167,000 into state Sen. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago)'s ultimately unsuccessful re-election campaign. Collins, who lost in a Democratic primary to former Chicago mayoral candidate Patricia Van Pelt Watkins, is at the center of allegations that she awarded scholarships to five individuals who live outside her district, though she denied any wrongdoing and said it was up to the State Board of Education to confirm that scholarship recipients live in her district.

Last year, reports emerged that state Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) gave scholarships to five students who all listed the same home address of a Chicago Democratic precinct captain. The matter was referred to the FBI.

The scholarships allow state lawmakers to award two four-year scholarships annually to students attending state universities. Some lawmakers have broken the scholarships up by awarding eight one-year scholarships each year, the Chicago Tribune reports.

But several lawmakers have come under fire for using the scholarships as gifts to the children of political supporters, allies and campaign contributors. The Better Government Association has described the program, which costs taxpayers some $15 million annually, as "beyond reform and should be eliminated."

Some 26 state senators and 51 state representatives last year ceased their participation in the program, according to Progress Illinois.

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