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Quinn calls indicted state rep’s awarding of tuition waivers ‘one more blot’ on the program

State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago)  |  SETH PERLMAN~AP

State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) | SETH PERLMAN~AP

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Updated: July 2, 2012 9:50AM



SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn Tuesday called indicted state Rep. Derrick Smith’s decision to award nearly $185,000 worth of tuition waivers last week “very disappointing” and reiterated plans to sign legislation to abolish what he has called a “political scholarship” program.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday that Smith, a Democrat from the West Side, handed out his full allotment of legislative tuition waivers last Friday despite facing a federal bribery charge and the possibility of being booted out of the Illinois House.

“This is just one more blot on the current program that will be quickly abolished,” Quinn said, when asked about Smith’s maneuver during an appearance at Julian Middle School in Oak Park.

“As soon as that bill comes to my desk, we’ll be acting promptly to sign it and end a program that just was abused too often,” the governor said. “And obviously, its time is over.”

Smith’s actions came 10 weeks after his March arrest, nearly eight weeks after the Illinois House opened expulsion hearings that could lead to his ouster and after his lengthy absence from the House — where he missed a major vote in March to abolish the scandal-ridden legislative tuition-waiver program under which he gave away free rides to Illinois state universities to eight students.

On Monday, the House voted 79-32 on a revamped version of bill doing away with the program. The legislation — already approved by the Senate — now goes to Quinn. Smith voted against that measure.

By moving when he did on his legislative scholarships, Smith avoided the possibility of not being able to give out the tuition waivers for the upcoming fall and spring semesters.

The bill passed Monday kills the program as of Sept. 1. But scholarships that already have been awarded aren’t affected. The program costs about $13.5 million annually, a cost that the state’s public universities must shoulder.

The group of students whose names Smith initially submitted for tuition waivers for the 2011-2012 school year included two students who didn’t live in his district — as state law requires for the scholarships.

The Illinois State Board of Education rejected those two because the students lived in the neighboring legislative district of Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago).

Smith’s lawyer says the legislator had every right to dole out the scholarships. Attorney Victor Henderson notes that Smith has been accused of a crime, not convicted of one.

He also said that Smith is just trying to keep doing the job that Democratic voters nominated him to do when they gave him a victory in the March primary.



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