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State Senate May Vote on Controversial Legislative Scholarship Program

Here is a wrap-up of some of the latest political news.

The Illinois House of Representatives has voted to dismantle the scandal-ridden legislative college scholarship program, and the program’s most ardent supporter, Senate President John Cullerton, says he will not stand in the way of a vote on the tuition waiver ban.

“Like any other bill, it will go through the normal committee process and there will be an opportunity for a vote,” Cullerton spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon told Progress Illinois. Phelon’s comments follow Chicago Tribune reports that the Senate President may work to prevent the bill from getting a vote.

The Illinois House passed legislation 79-25 March 21 to ban legislative scholarships. Gov. Pat Quinn has spoken against the scholarships. And, The State journal-Register in Springfield is reporting that Gov. Pat Quinn has a relatively new name for the embattled program: political scholarships.

Legislative scholarships let each state lawmaker award either two four-year full tuition waivers or eight one-year tuition waivers to any student who lives in their district to attend an Illinois public university.

But state lawmakers sometimes abuse the program. The latest examples: The Better Government Association found that State Rep. Monique Davis (D-Chicago) has awarded legislative scholarships to ten students outside of her district since 1999. And State Sen. Annazette Collins (D-Chicago) lost her General Assembly seat in the March 20 primary possibly thanks to allegations that she gave scholarships to people outside her district.

Legislative scholarships cost Illinois universities $13.5 million annually, according to Illinois Issues. Twenty-six out of 59 Senators and 51 out of 118 Representatives did not participate in the program last year, Progress Illinois reported, citing data provided by the Illinois Board of Education.

'Viagra Amendment' added to abortion-related bill

One of two abortion-related bills that flew through the Illinois House's Agriculture Committee last month picked up a slew of amendments before passing out of committee March 22, according to the Illinois Policy Institute. HB 4085, the Ultrasound Opportunity Act, would require abortion facilities to take an ultrasound image before providing an abortion. Amendments introduced by Democratic representatives seek to undermine the bill's effectiveness or extend its restrictions to men's sexual healthcare.

The five amendments include the "Viagra Amendment," which would require men seeking prescriptions to treat erectile dysfunction to receive written warnings about possible side effects and offer the option of viewing a graphic video about risks. Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago painted the amendment as a counter-attack to male legislators she believes are attempting to legislate women's health too restrictively.

Durbin's call for NFL bounty hearings is ‘political grandstanding:’ Walsh

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh is calling U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's plan to look into National Football League bounties “political grandstanding at its finest,” the Daily Herald reported.

The debate comes in the wake of news that the New Orleans Saints took part in an illegal bounty program that allegedly paid players to injure their competitors. Democrat Durbin, the Senate's assistant majority leader, announced plans to set up judiciary committee hearings to look into the legality of placing “bounties” in professional football and other sports.

Payton has been suspended for all of next season.

Walsh, a McHenry Republican running for re-election in the 8th District, said he's “not at all weighing in on bounty hunting and the NFL”—but thinks that lawmakers' attempt to get involved in the issue points to “why Congress' approval rating is so low.” In a statement, he also called it a waste of taxpayers' dollars.

Durbin's office declined to comment, the Herald reported.

Walsh faces Democrat Tammy Duckworth in the November general election. Durbin was one of Duckworth's earliest supporters in her congressional bid.

Tax on ammunition sales would fund trauma centers

The Illinois House of Representatives is considering a bill that would put a 2 percent tax on firearm ammunition sales, and directs the revenue generated by the tax to establish a High Crime Trauma Center Grant Fund. The proposed legislation authorizes the Illinois Department of Public Health to issue grants from the fund to trauma centers serving high crime areas.

The Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence supports HB 5167 because of reports saying that high crime/high poverty communities that are disproportionately impacted by gun violence have a shortage of trauma centers. Trauma centers that are forced to shoulder the burden of high numbers of shooting victims being transported from those communities are often not funded appropriately to handle the volume.

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