Bills to eliminate legislative scholarships hit Senate snag


SPRINGFIELD -- Efforts to eliminate the legislative scholarship program stalled Wednesday when the Senate's Democratic leadership sent bills that would abolish the program to a subcommittee.

House Bill 3810 -- which has 38 co-sponsors, more than enough to pass the Senate -- will join two similar bills in the Senate Executive Committee’s Subcommittee on Education, a group of lawmakers that has not yet met this session.

Thirteen of the co-sponsors are Democrats, and 25 are Republicans.

In response to complaints by Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who chairs the executive committee, predicted that a bill would emerge from the subcommittee, which has three members.

Radogno, who is chief sponsor of one of the bills and co-sponsor of the other two,  said the move feels like a stall.

“This is not a new issue,” she said. “This has enough sponsors to pass right now.”

Such subcommittees can be a graveyard for bills Senate Democrats don't like. Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, has opposed efforts to end the scholarship program.  Critics say lawmakers have repeatedly given the scholarships – technically, tuition waivers to the state’s public universities – to children of campaign donors and other politically influential people.

Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said ideas have been circulating on how to change the program rather than kill it off, but she declined to elaborate. She said the three bills will receive a fair hearing.

Emily Miller of the Better Government Association said some lawmakers are concerned that eliminating the scholarships will prevent some students in their districts from attending college. However, Miller said those concerns are different than the legislative scholarship issue.

“It’s public money used to curry private favor,” Miller said.

David Thomas can be reached at (217) 782-6292. Staff writer Chris Wetterich contributed to this report.