Senate OKs tiered lottery scholarships, guns-on-campus measures


LITTLE ROCK — The Senate on Monday overwhelmingly approved legislation that would add tiers of awards to state lottery scholarships, along with a bill to let college faculty and staff with concealed-carry permits take handguns on campus.

The Senate also passed legislation to allow private higher education institutions to create their own law enforcement agency, while a measure that would make elections for prosecuting attorney nonpartisan failed in the House.

By a 31-2 vote, the Senate passed Senate Bill 294 by Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home. House Bill 1295, an identical bill by Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, passed 34-0.

Under both bills, freshmen attending four-year schools would receive $2,000 from the Academic Challenge Scholarship. Sophomores would receive $3,000, juniors $4,000 and seniors $5,000. Students attending two-year schools would receive $2,000 per year.

“This is a better approach and a more sustainable approach,” said Key, who has said that the program will not meet its obligations next fiscal year at current levels of lottery revenue and scholarship awards.

Nearly 33,000 students in Arkansas are attending college with help from lottery scholarships.

Currently, students receive $4,500 each year to attend a four-year school and $2,250 each year to attend a two-year school. Under the new legislation, students already in the program would continue to receive those amounts but students entering the program in the 2013-14 school year would receive the tiered amounts.

Key’s bill goes to the House. Gillam’s bill goes to the governor.

Guns on campus

House Bill 1243 By Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, passed the Senate 31-4. It would let colleges and universities decide whether to allow staff to carry a concealed handgun on campus. The measure passed the House 70-11 earlier this month. It goes to the governor.

Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, who presented the bill on the Senate floor, said presidents of the state’s colleges and universities, as well as the state police, have “remain neutral” on the proposal.

The bill originally would have required public colleges and universities to allow faculty and staff members who have concealed-carry permits to carry handguns on campus, but Collins amended it in the House to allow the governing board of institutions to decide in an annual vote whether to allow guns on campus.

With the change, Gov. Mike Beebe has said he likely would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

HB 1252, by Rep. Mark Biviano, R-Searcy, would allow the state’s 11 private universities to create and maintain law enforcement agencies to enforce state law on campus. It passed the Senate on a 29-3 vote and goes to the governor.

Non-partisan prosecutor elections

Meanwhile, HB 1412 failed in the House on a 40-50 vote. The bill by Rep. Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, would make prosecuting attorney elections non-partisan, as judicial elections are currently.

Presenting his bill on the House floor, Shepherd said that like judges, prosecutors should be able to campaign for office and serve without involvement in party politics. He said his bill would not favor one party over another because both the Democratic and the Republican parties would lose filing fees if it became law.

Rep. Nate Steel, D-Nashville, a lawyer and former prosecutor, spoke in support of the bill, saying that prosecuting attorney is “a very powerful position, and it’s not something that we need to be playing around with with partisanship. I think in today’s political climate it’s even more important that we have nonpartisan prosecutors.”

Rep. John Walker, D-Little Rock, a lawyer, spoke against the measure, saying it benefits voters to know as much as possible about a candidate for prosecuting attorney, including party affiliation.

“I think that what it is, it’s a devious, surreptitious way of trying to deceive voters,” he said of the bill.

Shepherd said later he likely will try again with his bill. He said he had not yet decided whether to amend it to address legislators’ concerns.

Also Monday:

—The Senate approved Senate 307, 31-2, by Sen. David Johnson, D-Little Rock, which would address a shortfall in the Administration of Justice Fund, which among other things, pays the salaries of about 125 court assistants. Johnson said the proposal, which is supported by the Judicial Council, would close a number of loop holes and levalize fines between courts. He said later it would generate at least $6 million annually. The bill now goes to the House.

— The Senate approved, 30-1, SB 259 by Sen. David Sanders, R-Little Rock, which would exclude sexual offenses and other felonies including capital murder, murder, manslaughter, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, arson, among others, from eligibility for transfer to the Department of Community Correction by the state Parole Board. The bill now goes to the House. The bill now goes to the House.

The Arkansas Sentencing Commission estimated in an impact assessment report of the bill that the cost of housing the inmates would cost the state an additional $3,4 million over the next decade.

— The Senate approved, 33-1, SB 260,which would require the state Department of Community Correction to prepare a report on the number of inmates under supervision for the last five years who would be considered repeat offenders under the definition of recidivism. The bill now goes to the House.

— The Senate approved 35-0, HB 1002, by Rep. John Edwards, D-Little Rock, which would terminate the parental rights of a convicted rapist to a child conceived as a result of rape. The bill goes to the governor.

—The House approved, 94-0, HB 1283 by Rep. Douglas House, R-North Little Rock, would allow the absentee ballot of an active duty service member deployed oversees to count if he or she dies before the election. The bill goes to the Senate.

—The House approved, 95-0, HB 1326 by Rep. Marshall Wright, D-Forrest City, which would allow a member of the state Parole Board, a Parole Board investigator or a parole revocation judge to carry a concealed handgun into a place where law enforcement officers are allowed to carry guns if the person has a concealed-carry permit and is on official business. The bill goes to the Senate.

The Senate also unanimously endorsed Senate Resolution 13 by Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, honoring the late Willie Kavanaugh Hocker, who lived in Pine Bluff and Wabbaseka, and is credited with creating Arkansas state flag. A memorial in her honor and commemorating the 100th anniversary of the flag, is to be unveiled in Wabbaseka on Tuesday.