SPRINGFIELD — A bill to abolish the more than 100-year-old Illinois General Assembly scholarship program advanced out of a Senate subcommittee this morning with support from both the Democratic and Republican leaders in the upper chamber.
The Senate has long been the main obstacle toward eliminating the controversial scholarship program.
Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, this morning said the subcommittee vote — to be followed later today with a full committee vote — is a breakthrough.
"It's progress. In politics one doesn't always get what they want. This is not the bill I wanted to see passed, but we're getting a lot of what we wanted to see. This is big."
Frerichs predicted the bill would pass.
"I think it's going through," he said. "I feel pretty confident that we'll pass legislation this year that will end it."
If so it would be the end — for now, at least — of a program that has been marked by almost-yearly accusations of abuse by legislators.
An amendment placed on the bill today also creates a task force that will look into other scholarships and college tuition waivers, including the 50-percent tuition waivers offered to some university employees and offspring.
"It's a task force. It doesn't do away with employee tuition waivers," said Frerichs. "That's a fight we can have another day."
Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, said he would support ending the tuition waivers as well as the legislative scholarships.
"While we're doing that, what about the half-tuition program at the university? Why go a half-measure? You might as well do it all?" Cultra said. "Everybody raises concern — and The News-Gazette is a big one — about the legislative scholarships. I just wonder why you weren't as concerned about the other. That's a question I would have for your editorial board.
"I think that just because you work at the university, you get a 50 percent tuition reduction, that's something that ought to be looked at. If it came up for a vote I would probably vote to end it."