SPRINGFIELD - State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, introduced a bill in the General Assembly this week that would abolish the controversial legislative scholarship program.
Every year, each of the 118 House members and 59 state senators may award four years of tuition waivers at the University of Illinois and four years at any of the other state universities.
The sole requirement is that the student live within the legislator's district.
An investigation in 1996 by The News-Gazette and a subsequent investigation by The Associated Press found instances of legislators doling out the scholarships to children of major campaign contributors or political cronies, and in some cases, to students who did not reside in the proper district. The program survived, but as a result of the scandal, many lawmakers voluntarily created independent committees and standards by which the applicants are ranked. Some others simply chose not to participate.
Last school year the UI waived tuition for 764 students for a total of $4.3 million in legislative scholarships, said Dianna Barrows, director of state relations for the university.
The schools have to ?eat? that cost, Jakobsson said.
Abolishing the political perk is ?the fiscally responsible thing to do,? particularly in light of the rising cost of tuition, she said.
State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, does not participate in the General Assembly scholarship program and has said he would not do so unless the universities were reimbursed for the tuition waivers.
Barrows said the UI is not taking a position on Jakobsson's legislation.
Similar bills introduced by former state Rep. Julie Curry, D-Mount Zion, failed to become law, but Jakobsson said the reception this year may be different, considering the state's nearly $5 billion budget deficit.
State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, expressed support for the General Assembly scholarship program.
?I don't know that they should necessarily be banned,? he said. ?If you have a blind committee that's making decisions based on merit, then it is a nice way to help deserving students.?
Rose said he and state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, are forming a joint committee to choose the winners of their legislative scholarships.
State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, uses a similar process.