Indicted Illinois lawmaker hands out scholarships

The move comes one week before law makers moved to end the practice.

May 22, 2012

The Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Bribery charges haven't stopped an Illinois lawmaker from handing out $185,000 worth of college scholarships.

Rep. Derrick Smith last week awarded the tuition waivers that every state legislator is allowed to give out, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Tuesday. Two of his waivers went to people who did not live in his district as required by law. The State Board of Education blocked both.

Smith was arrested in March and charged with taking a $7,000 bribe in exchange for helping a daycare center obtain a state grant. The Chicago Democrat denies the accusation.

Illinois lawmakers have voted to end the century-old scholarship program, which has been plagued by incidents of tuition waivers going to the children of political insiders and campaign donors. Gov. Pat Quinn says he will sign the bill. Legislators would still be allowed to hand out the waivers until September.

Smith's attorney says his client will keep performing his duties, including awarding scholarships, as long as he's in office.

"It's ludicrous to think someone should not do their job as long as they have it," says Henderson. "There's a process you have to go through before you're determined to have violated the law. That process applies to everybody. If we don't want to follow the law, we might as well be living in communist China."

A leader in the effort to end legislative scholarship saw it differently. Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, said most people would expect an indicted lawmaker not to award scholarships "especially when you consider this is a program that, based on the conduct we've seen, borders on criminal."

Each of the state's 177 lawmakers is allowed to award two four-year waivers annually. Many lawmakers break up those waivers into smaller chunks and award eight one-year waivers. The waivers are worth about $13.5 million a year, a cost that must be absorbed by state universities.