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Senate Week in Review: Gov. Quinn Signs Legislation to End Scandal-Ridden Legislative Scholarships

A compiled review of Senate activities from the week.

Springfield, Ill. – On the same day news reports surfaced that another Chicago Democrat legislator is under investigation for abuse of the state’s legislative scholarship program, State Sen. Ron Sandack (R-Downers Grove) said Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation to eliminate the controversial waivers.

Another new law not only supports Illinois’ veterans, but will benefit job creators and boost the state’s economy.

Next week, Sen. Sandack is hosting a Citizens Utility Board Energy Forum aimed at helping residents learn how to decipher the energy options available to them and save money.

The event will be held on Wednesday, July 18 at 7:00 p.m. at the Village of Downers Grove Village Board Room at 801 Burlington Avenue.  The Citizens Utility Board (CUB) will be on hand to discuss municipal electric aggregation, energy choices, and much more.  Free brochures and refreshments will be provided.  For more information, please call Sen. Sandack’s district office at 630-737-0504.

On July 11, House Bill 3810/PA 97-0772 was signed into law, a move that will finally eliminate Illinois’ scandal-ridden legislative scholarship program. The measure also creates a task force to examine the use of tuition and fee waivers at Illinois’ public universities.

Sen. Sandack applauded the elimination of the controversial perk, noting that in early 2012, all Senate Republican lawmakers voluntarily walked away from the program. Their unified position drew attention to the issue, and was a driving force in the effort to end the program.

“It was easy to see that this was a tired and grossly abused program whose usefulness had long passed,” Sen. Sandack said.  “It clearly needed to be eliminated.  I’m pleased the Governor signed this legislation, illustrating that there is no place for political scholarships in Illinois.”

Illinois media has uncovered numerous abuses of the century-old General Assembly Scholarship Program, stretching back to at least the 1980s. Allegations of impropriety and corruption continue to surface, which in some instances have led to federal investigations into evidence that lawmakers awarded the scholarships to benefit friends, lobbyists and campaign donors. Additional studies reveal that over the last six years a significant number of lawmakers illegally awarded the waivers to students outside their district.

However, while often the focus centers on abuse of the program, the scholarships are also a financial drain on Illinois’ higher education system. The state does not reimburse colleges for the cost of the program, which totals more than $13 million a year. As a result, those costs are passed on to other students through increased tuition and fees.

“It’s great that we’ve finally eliminated this scandal-ridden program so colleges and universities won’t be forced to pick up the tab for these scholarships given on behalf of state legislators,” he said.  “It will lessen their financial burdens a little bit.”

Sen. Sandack said that instead of doling out scholarships, lawmakers should focus on getting the state’s finances under control as a way to improve access to and affordability of higher education. The impact of Illinois’ financial woes has led to reductions in state financing for higher education in recent years. As schools struggle to operate with less, this challenge is exacerbated by significant delays in the state’s reimbursement to universities. As a result, many institutions have struggled to meet their own obligations, resulting in increased tuition and fees at Illinois universities.

Students and parents looking for information on financial aid, scholarships, grants, prepaid tuition and loans should visit the Illinois Student Assistance Commission’s Web site at www.collegezone.com and What’s Next Illinois at www.whatsnextillinois.org.

In other bill-signing action, the Governor approved Senate Bill 3241/PA 97-0767 to offer Illinois employers a tax incentive for hiring a qualified unemployed veteran.

Often service men and women return home from active duty and have a difficult time finding employment. Senate Bill 3241 will offer a tax credit of up to $5,000 to employers who hire a qualified veteran who has been unemployed for an aggregate of four weeks or more during the year prior to their date of hire. The tax credit will be equivalent to 20 percent of the veteran’s gross wages during the tax year, not to exceed $5,000. As a continuation of current law, employers who continue to employ a veteran can collect a credit equal to 10 percent of the gross wages paid to the veteran, not to exceed $1,200.

The law will also allow a county or municipality to reduce or eliminate the property taxes for the surviving spouse of a soldier who dies while on active duty serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Currently, these entities have the authority to offer property tax relief to surviving spouses of fallen police officers and firefighters.

Qualified veterans include those who are members of the U.S. Armed Forces, Illinois National Guard, or who are members of any reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces, and who served on active duty in connection with Operation Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, or Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Additional legislation signed into law during the week includes:

Alzheimer's Disease (HB 4548/PA 97-768): Creates an Alzheimer's Disease Assistance Plan and an Advisory Committee to hold public meetings throughout the state and to use Web casts and online surveys to solicit feedback from patients and healthcare providers.

Cook County Forest Preserve (SB 2946/PA 97-0773): Allows the Cook County Forest Preserve district to establish construction and procurement contract procedures for minority/female‐owned business owners. This will enable the district to comply with state and federal affirmative action laws.

Infrastructure Investment (HB 4568/PA 97-4568): Authorizes $1.6 billion in bonds to finance state infrastructure repairs and improvements.  Half of the total would be used for state and local roads (transportation "D") and half would be used for rail and mass transit statewide. These bonds are part of the remaining bond authorization approved in the 2009 capital program.

PACE Bonding (HB 4036/PA 97-770): Gives PACE, the regional suburban bus service, bonding power of $100 million for four projects. The bonding is subject to RTA approval.

RTA Short-Term Borrowing (HB 3875/PA 97-769): Extends the RTA’s short-term borrowing powers for two years, allowing the RTA to have up to $400 million in short-term working cash notes unpaid through July 1, 2014. They must be repaid by 2016.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Dan F. July 14, 2012 at 12:03 PM
1) Why did you vote for the largest expansion of gambling in state history? 2) Why did you lie, in writing, to two groups that you would oppose the very law you voted to approve, in order to get their endorsement? 3) Why are you still refusing to address the issue of lying to get elected? Add "coward" to "liar".
Barry Allen July 14, 2012 at 12:58 PM
Dan F. 1) Why do you keep posting this rant (they seem like questions you really don't want an answer for) on everything that mentions Ron Sandack no matter how irrelevant? 2) Why don't you call Ron or email him (politely!) and ask your first question? He just might answer.

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