LITTLE ROCK — A bill to abolish the Arkansas Lottery Commission and make the state lottery part of the executive branch of government received a Senate committee’s endorsement Tuesday.

LITTLE ROCK — A bill to abolish the Arkansas Lottery Commission and make the state lottery part of the executive branch of government received a Senate committee’s endorsement Tuesday.


In a voice vote, the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs advanced Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, which would put the lottery under the control of the state Department of Finance and Administration. No "no" votes were heard.


The Senate is expected to consider the bill Wednesday.


Voters approved a constitutional amendment to create a lottery to fund college scholarships in 2008. The lottery launched in September 2009, under the control of a nine-member citizens’ commission, and has existed independently from the executive branch.


Hickey, chairman of the legislative committee that oversees the lottery, told the panel on state agencies that at its height the lottery raised $97 million in one year for college scholarships, but this year it is on track to net about $73 million.


With the $20 million that the state contributes each year to the Academic Challenge Scholarship program, the state should have about $93 million for lottery-funded scholarships this year — but the state Department of Higher Education says the need is about $102 million, he said.


The state has created a $20 million reserve fund to cover scholarship shortfalls, but "at our current rate we’ll totally use it up by … February of 2016, and we will not have enough to pay all of the scholarships at that time," Hickey said.


"I believe that this is an opportunity that we could get in here to stabilize this and turn it around," he told the panel, saying the lottery is in "a crisis situation."


Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said she supported the creation of the lottery and was concerned that "we’re straying somewhat from what I perceived it was going to be when it first started, and that is an independent entity."


Hickey said he understood the desire to keep politics out of the lottery by making it independent.


"I don’t know that we have actually done that," he said. "I’m not for sure that we didn’t perhaps create another political subdivision of its own type with that."


State Lottery Director Bishop Woosley, who answers to the Lottery Commission, told reporters after the hearing that he and the commission have no position on the bill.


"The structure and governance of the commission is solely within the discretion of the Legislature," he said.


Woosley also said the lottery has seen six straight months of growth in scratch-off ticket sales and that sales were up last month in online games, or draw games. Powerball ticket sales had been in a slump but have been boosted by a large jackpot, which on Tuesday afternoon was $485 million, the third largest in Powerball history.


"We have implemented things in the lottery that are changing sales, and now that we have our online games surging, I think you will see a better return for scholarships," Woosley said.


The Senate state agencies panel also endorsed House Bill 1002 by Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, which would allow the state Ethics Commission to issue advisory opinions regarding new ethics restrictions contained in an amendment to the state constitution that voters approved in November. The bill goes to the Senate.


Elsewhere Tuesday, the House Education Committee endorsed HB 1226 by Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, which would require that public school students be taught cursive writing at some point in their education. The bill goes to the House.


The House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee rejected HB 1262 by Rep. Josh Miller, R-Heber Springs, which would end the Medicaid expansion program known as the private option on June 30, 2016. The measure failed in a voice vote.


Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposal to end the private option on Dec. 31, 2016, and create a task force to recommend a new model to replace it has been approved by both the House and Senate and sent to the governor’s desk, but Miller and several other legislators continue to advocate for an earlier end to the program.


The House on Tuesday voted 65-25 to approve HB 1189 by Rep. David Hillman, D-Almyra, which would raise standards for licensed accountants, including requiring a peer review every three years.


HB 1189 failed in a 37-35 House vote last week, but on Tuesday the House voted 70-21 to approve a motion by Rep. Jon Eubanks, R-Paris, to reconsider the bill.


Rep. Kim Hendren, R-Gravette, moved for reconsideration of HB 1150 by Rep. Julie Mayberry, which would change the way the state defines the majority and minority parties, but the motion failed in a 43-41 vote, falling short of majority support in the 100-member House. The House rejected the bill last week in a 46-19 vote.