SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois House voted on Wednesday to remove a requirement that half of the eight tuition waivers state lawmakers may distribute each year be for students attending the University of Illinois.
The bill, which passed 87 to 27, now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants to eliminate the General Assembly Scholarship program entirely, but state Rep. Will Davis, D-Hazel Crest, who sponsored the bill, said he is not in favor of that.
?We need to continue this program, and this is just another opportunity for young people to go on to higher education,? he said.
Davis said the bill would allow legislators who do not have enough UI students apply for the tuition waiver to use the scholarships on students who want to go to other state universities.
In practice, the bill would also let a state lawmaker give all of the scholarships to UI students instead.
Last school year, the UI waived tuition for 764 students for a total of $4.3 million in legislative scholarships, according to Dianna Barrows, director of state relations for the university.
It is hard to tell what the impact would be if the bill became law, said UI spokesman Tom Hardy.
?This bill has the potential to double the cost of the legislative scholarship program to the UI at a time when we are searching for every possible dollar of savings,? Hardy said. ?I doubt that that would happen totally, but it does have that potential.?
The University of Illinois did not take a position on Davis' bill and has not expressed an opinion on whether to eliminate the General Assembly scholarships altogether.
State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, have each introduced legislation to end the controversial program, where the sole requirement for awarding the tuition waiver is that the student live within the lawmaker'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 even reside in the proper district. 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.
?I know not everyone participates in this program, but for those of us who do participate, I think this is a way to make better use of it,? Davis said of his bill.
Black and Jakobsson voted against the measure. State Rep. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, and state Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, voted yes.
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