The House voted 89-0 to back legislation that would make such violations by sports agents into felonies. The proposal, backed by the athletic directors of the University of Arkansas and the University of Central Arkansas, is aimed at preventing controversies that have hit other college football programs around the nation.
“There is a clear and present danger to college athletics today, and that is we are one impressionable 18-, 19-, 20-, 21- and 22-year-old and an unscrupulous agent or intermediary (away from) making a bad decision that puts college athletics at risk,” Republican Rep. David Sanders of Little Rock, the bill’s sponsor, told the House.
Enticing student-athletes with cash or gifts is already a misdemeanor in Arkansas, but the measure would make it a felony punishable by up to a $10,000 fine and up to six years in jail. The bill also increases the maximum civil fines the attorney general may seek from $50,000 to $250,000.
The measure, which also is backed by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, would require agents to notify a school before contacting a student-athlete.
Arkansas’ proposal follows high-profile controversies involving college football players in other states. They include former Heisman winner Reggie Bush, who returned his trophy last year after the NCAA ruled that he and his family received cash and gifts while he was at Southern California.
NCAA officials also determined that Auburn quarterback Cam Newton’s father tried to peddle him to Mississippi State for cash. But the NCAA cleared Newton to play because it found no evidence that he or Auburn knew about Cecil Newton’s pay-for-play scheme. He went on to win the Heisman and lead his team to a national title.
The measure now heads to the Senate. It was approved by the House while some lawmakers cut short their week because of snow that blanked Arkansas. The Senate adjourned until Monday to give senators time to return home, though some lawmakers said they planned to stay in town and ride out the weather. The House, however, planned to return to the Capitol on Thursday morning.
In other business, the House approved legislation that would penalize Arkansans who use false diplomas to land jobs or promotions. The proposal by Rep. Kathy Webb, D-Little Rock, would impose up to $1,000 in fines for people who misrepresent their academic achievements. The bill also would require some post-secondary education institutions to secure accreditation before they could become certified through a state higher education board.
House lawmakers also voted to require state employees to completely terminate their work in order to receive retirement benefits. The proposal by Rep. Allen Kerr, R-Little Rock, would require state employees to have “ceased performing any services for the employer,” except for any unpaid work related to transfer of their duties, in order to get the benefits.
The measure, which mirrors a regulation enacted by the Arkansas Public Retirement System, was in response to revelations in 2009 that some officials “retired” by taking themselves off the payroll but continued to work before returning to the payroll. A 1999 law allowed elected officials and government employees to file for retirement, go at least 30 days without a paycheck, then return to their jobs.
Legislation making changes to the state’s lottery law also advanced from the House Rules Committee. It would require more detailed annual reports from the Lottery Commission. The legislation, however, did not recommend any changes to the amounts of the college scholarships funded by the lottery. The lottery’s legislative oversight committee last year delayed making any recommendations on possible scholarship changes and is still looking at the issue.
The proposal also recommended changing the lottery-funded scholarship to eliminate stricter eligibility requirements for students who graduate from schools the state has identified as grade inflaters. At those schools, 20 percent or more of students earned an A or B in math courses but scored below proficiency levels on corresponding state exams. The stricter eligibility requirements are set to take effect next year.