SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Senate voted 43-5 Thursday to kill off a 103-year-old perk, stripping themselves of their ability to hand out free college tuition to students in their districts.
The so-called legislative scholarship program has been under scrutiny for years after some lawmakers doled out their no-strings-attached waivers to the sons and daughters of campaign contributors and to students who live outside of their districts.
The law allowed each member of the General Assembly to give eight individual partial tuition breaks to state universities with no official guidelines for determining whether the students actually need the assistance.
With the state facing major budgetary problems, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said it was time for the $13 million program to go.
“There were abuses,” Cullerton said. “Everyone knows what a distraction this is.”
Republicans, who had stopped handing out the scholarships, praised the legislation.
“It is time we step up and do what’s right,” said Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale. “Nothing in life is free.”
Supporters of the program said a few examples of problems shouldn’t result in its complete elimination.
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“I think this is a travesty for the governor to take scholarships away from people who truly need them,” Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, said.
The legislation also creates a special task force to investigate the more than $356 million in tuition and fee waivers that are handed out by universities each year.
The legislation now heads back to the House for further action. Gov. Pat Quinn has said he will sign the bill.
The legislation is House Bill 3810.