Derrick Smith legislative scholarship recipients can keep waivers, state says

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Indicted former state Rep. Derrick Smith is now expelled from the Illinois House, but the people he tabbed to receive legislative scholarships for the upcoming school year will get to keep those tuition waivers.

That’s the word Thursday from the Illinois State Board of Education, which administers the legislative scholarship program now in its last few weeks of existence.

In May, after his federal bribery indictment and after expulsion hearings had begun in the House, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Smith awarded nearly $185,000 in legislative scholarships for the fall in a move Gov. Pat Quinn called at the time “very disappointing.”

Smith, accused of taking a $7,000 bribe in an undercover FBI sting, became the first sitting Illinois House member to be expelled from the legislative chamber since 1905 after the House voted for his ouster last Friday.

“Our stance is basically, at the time he awarded the scholarships, he was a lawfully elected representative and was exercising the duties of his office,” said Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for the State Board of Education. “He awarded the scholarships, which now essentially are the property of the students.”

Fergus did say, however, that if Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office had an interest in reviewing the matter, “we’d certainly work with them.”

A spokesman for Madigan did not have an immediate comment Thursday.

Earlier this summer, Quinn signed legislation abolishing the legislative scholarship program beginning on Sept. 1. The law allows lawmakers to make one last round of tuition waivers for the 2012-2013 school year so long as the awards are made prior to the law taking effect.

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