LITTLE ROCK — The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday endorsed legislation that would restructure state lottery-funded scholarships to increase the awards as students advance through college.
The panel unanimously approved Senate Bill 65 by Sen. Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, and House Bill 1295 by Rep. Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, which are identical proposals.
"What this bill does is provide stability," Key told the committee. "It provides stability … long term for the scholarship program that has helped so many students."
Both bills go to the Senate. Gillam’s bill passed the House earlier this week.
Under the bills, the Academic Challenge Scholarship for students attending four-year schools would be awarded 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.
Nearly 33,000 students in Arkansas attend 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.
Also Wednesday, the committee endorsed HB 1252, which would allow private universities to create and maintain law enforcement agencies to enforce state law on campus, and SB 239, which is intended to provide protections for international exchange students.
Both measures go to the Senate.
Rep. Mark Biviano, R-Searcy, the sponsor of HB1252, told the committee that giving private colleges and universities — there are 11 in Arkansas — the ability to create police agencies would help them better protect their students.
Craig Russell, director of public safety at Harding University at Searcy, and Curtis Johnson, director of public safety at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, both spoke for the bill, saying they employ security officers but they have no authority to detain suspects or make arrests.
Attorney Jeff Rosenzweig of Little Rock spoke against the bill, arguing that by passing the bill the Legislature would be "delegating a quintessential government function by giving the power of arrest, the power of law enforcement, to a private group or a religious group."
Sen Joyce Elliott, co-chairwoman of the committee, also questioned the legislation.
"Where do we begin and end if we start to give police powers to private entities?" she asked.
It passed on a voice vote.
Under SB 239 by Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, all companies that place foreign exchange students in Arkansas would be required to register with the Secretary of State’s Office.
The measure would provide sanctions for the companies if there are reports of abuse in the homes where the exchange students are placed — a warning for a first offense, a $5,000 fine for a second offense, and a $10,000 fine and loss of the right to place students in Arkansas for a third offense.