Scholarship funding, fetal pain abortion ban bills advance


LITTLE ROCK — The House on Monday approved legislation to restructure college scholarships awarded from state lottery proceeds while the Senate easily passed a bill that would ban abortions in Arkansas after 20 weeks.

By a 69-21 vote, the House passed House Bill 1295 by Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, and Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home. The bill goes to the Senate.

Under the proposal, students attending four-year schools would be awarded scholarships in the following amounts: $2,000 for freshmen, $3,000 for sophomores, $4,000 for juniors and $5,000 for seniors. Students attending two-year schools would receive $2,000 per year.

Students currently receive $4,500 to attend a four-year school and $2,250 to attend a two-year school — 27,088 students at four-year schools and 5,741 students at two-year institutions have lottery scholarships.

HB1295 stipulates students already in the program would continue to receive those amounts while students entering the program in the 2013-14 school year would receive the tiered amounts.

The bill seeks to prevent the lottery scholarship program from becoming unable to meet its obligations in 2014.

In December, the legislative oversight committee on the lottery recommended reducing the scholarship amounts to $3,300 a year for four-year schools and $1,650 a year for two-year schools. Key presented a plan for tiered scholarships before the committee but got no support for it there.

Rep. Mark Perry, D-Jacksonville, co-chairman of the oversight committee, warned House members Monday that Gillam’s bill “would drastically impact probably the middle-income kids as far as their choice to attend a four-year university.”

But Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, said a tiered system should improve scholarship retention. Under the current system, too many recipients drop out after the first year “and we’ve burned off a lot of money in an ineffective way,” he said.

“By rewarding students for completing one year, then two years, then three years, what we’re saying to our kids is, go to school, stay in school, get your degree and you’ll be the beneficiary,” he said.

Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, asked Gillam if a racial impact study had been done for the bill. Gillam said none had, but he said if one is needed he would be willing to have it done while the bill is in the Senate.

Meanwhile in the Senate, House Bill 1037 passed, 25-7. Known as the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, the measure by Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, would ban an abortion after 20 weeks, the point at which the legislation maintains a fetus typically is able to feel pain.

A Senate committee last week amended the bill to include exemptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. The version that previously passed the House with 75 votes exempted only pregnancies that threatened the life of the mother or physical impairment of the mother.

The bill must go back to the House for consideration of the Senate amendment.

“This bill is law in seven states already,” Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, said while presenting the bill on the Senate floor. “It is constitutional and it is based on Nebraska law.”

Opponents in the Senate noted the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1973 Roe V. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, established 24 weeks as viability for an infant, and they said neither the American Medical Association nor any other research-based medical organization has ever validated that a fetus feels pain at 20 weeks.

Also, Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, said abortions at 20 weeks or later in a pregnancy are extremely rare and only occur when there is a problem with the fetus.

“Nobody keeps a baby in the womb for 20 weeks expecting to have an abortion,” she said, adding that the state should not tell a woman at that stage of a pregnancy what she should or should not do.

Other bills that passed in the House on Monday included:

—HB 1017 by Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, to allow school districts to adopt curriculum standards for academic study of the Bible. The bill passed 79-3 and goes to the Senate.

—HB 1187 by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, to prohibit public servants and governmental bodies from spending public funds to support or oppose a ballot measure. The bill passed 79-2 and goes to the Senate.

— HB 1300 by Collins, to make the security plans of public water systems permanently exempt from the state Freedom of Information Act. The bill passed 84-0 and goes to the Senate.

—HB 1252 by Rep. Mark Biviano, R-Searcy, to allow private universities to create and maintain law enforcement agencies to enforce state law on campus. The bill passed 84-4 and goes to the Senate.

—Senate Bill 92 by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, to eliminate the statute of limitations for certain sex crimes committed against minors. The bill passed 83-0 and goes to the governor.