LITTLE ROCK — A bill to abolish the Arkansas Lottery Commission and make the state lottery part of the executive branch of government cleared a House committee Wednesday.

LITTLE ROCK — A bill to abolish the Arkansas Lottery Commission and make the state lottery part of the executive branch of government cleared a House committee Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, a Senate panel advanced bills to require the teaching of computer science and cursive writing in schools, and the House approved a bill to deregulate hair braiding.

The House Rules Committee endorsed Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, in a voice vote, with no "no" votes heard. The bill would put the lottery under the control of the state Department of Finance and Administration and dissolve the independent nine-member commission that has controlled the lottery since its creation in 2009.

Hickey has said the change would put the state in a better position to address declining lottery revenues, which are used to fund college scholarships for Arkansas students.

The bill passed last week in the Senate in a 34-0 vote and heads next to the House, where Hickey said he was hopeful it would continue to receive strong support.

"We’ve talked about this and vetted it every which way. I think everybody understands the importance of trying to correct the situation that we have," he said.

The lottery has funded college scholarships for more than 30,000 Arkansas students in each of the past four fiscal years, but the Legislature has twice lowered scholarship amounts to compensate for declining lottery revenue.

House Speaker Jeremy Gillam, R-Judsonia, said Wednesday he believed the bill had broad support among House members.

The Senate Education Committee on Wednesday endorsed HB 1183 by Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark, which would require every public high school in the state to offer at lease one course in computer science — part of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s agenda for the session. The bill goes to the Senate.

The committee also endorsed and sent to the Senate HB 1044 by Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, which would require every public high school in the state to teach cursive writing.

The Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee rejected SB 178 by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale, which would end enrollment in the Medicaid expansion program known as the private option. The bill failed in a voice vote.

Act 46 of 2015, approved earlier this session, calls for the private option to end Dec. 31, 2016, and for a legislative task force to look for a different model to replace it — also a part of the governor’s agenda.

The House on Wednesday voted 86-3 to approve House Bill 1177 by Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, which would remove professional hair braiders from education and licensing requirements set by the state Cosmetology Technical Advisory Committee.

The bill also would set up a process for obtaining certification as a professional hair braider, but it would make certification voluntary.

Ballinger told senators that hair braiders currently are required to obtain up to 1,500 hours of education, which can cost up to $20,000 — even though the education does not include hair braiding.

"These are just people who want to work, and by doing this we’re going to say, ‘You’re allowed to go to work,’" he said.

The bill goes to the Senate.

The House voted 87-5 to approve HB 1359 by Rep. Bob Johnson, D-Jacksonville, which would make a driver’s license valid for eight years instead of the current four years.

Johnson said the bill would reduce foot traffic in state revenue offices, save time for Arkansas motorists and save money for the state. The bill goes to the Senate.

House members voted 54-28 to approve HB 1347 by Rep. David Fielding, D-Magnolia, which would allow a nonprofit college to participate in the statewide transfer agreement.

Fielding told House members the bill would allow a student to transfer credits from a nonprofit college with national accreditation to an Arkansas college with regional accreditation. The bill goes to the Senate.

In a 96-0 vote, the House approved SB 200 by Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, which would allow an Arkansas prison inmate to be transferred to a re-entry program for at least the last six months of his or her sentence.

Rep. Camille Bennett, D-Lonoke, who presented the bill on the Senate floor, said the bill would allow inmates to obtain skills needed to re-enter society and allow the state Department of Correction to assess whether inmates are ready for parole. The bill passed previously in the Senate and now goes to the governor.

The House voted 94-0 to approve SB 40 by the Joint Budget Committee, an appropriation bill for the state Bureau of Legislative Research that includes a $98,000 increase so the bureau can hire one additional attorney. The bill goes to the governor.

The Senate on Wednesday voted 18-12 to approve HB 1082 by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, which would allow water and sewer companies serving the same area to form cooperative billing arrangements.

Sen. Stephanie Flowers, D-Pine Bluff, questioned the fairness of a provision that would allow collection activities, potentially including a cutoff of water service, to begin 15 days after the earliest due date instead of 25, as current law allows. She said people having trouble paying within 25 days would have even more trouble if the deadline were shortened.

"Do you think the humane thing to do is to cut a person’s water off in less time if they can’t pay?" Flowers asked Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, who presented the bill in the Senate.

"I think the humane thing to do is to do what you agreed when you contracted for service," Hester replied.

The bill, which passed previously in the House, goes back to the House for concurrence in a Senate amendment.

The Senate voted 31-1 to approve SB 311 by Hester, which would allow a prosecutor or deputy prosecutor to list a post office box on his or her driver’s license instead of a home address.

Flowers asked why judges and jurors were not included.

"They are the ones who decide the cases, not the prosecutors," she said.

Hester said he limited the bill to prosecutors and their deputies because they were the ones who requested the bill.

The bill goes to the House.


Dale Ellis contributed to this report.