From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Halter comments on draft legislation, polls Arkansans on lottery.

In Lottery on 10 February 2009 at 1:35 pm

Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter told reporters this morning that he is happy with some of the progress that has been made on implementing a state lottery and scholarship program, but that work is needed on other aspects of draft legislation in circulation.

Halter made his comments during a press conference to present new public opinion polling on lottery-funded scholarships.

The press conference follows the general release yesterday of a memo summarizing the forthcoming lottery bill. Among the initial lottery proposals, which are subject to change, is a provision for a new state grant called the Opportunity Scholarship. The scholarship would be available to any high-school student who maintains a 2.5 GPA or scores a 19 on the ACT. It would provide a minimum of $1,500 per year at a four-year college and $750 annually at a two-year school.

Rep. Steve Harrelson has provided a breakdown of other provisions in the memo.

“Many parts of the proposal I’m gratified by,” Halter said. He added that he was happy that the summary of the legislation shared provisions, such as a self-supporting lottery commission, that he recommended in a statement of general principles for lottery implementation several months ago.

Halter was more specific, however, when describing what he saw as shortcomings in the lottery-legislation summary. He encouraged the legislature to create scholarships of $5,000 annually at four-year schools and $2,500 annually at two year schools. He also expressed dismay that proposed ethics rules are not stricter. He said he would like to see a total ban on lobbying by lottery vendors, and he recommended that state lottery commissioners be barred from lobbying on lottery issues for two years after they leave the commission.

Halter also stressed that there is plenty of time to secure changes to the current proposal. “The folks who put the summary out stated very clearly that it’s a draft for comment,” he said.

(Read on for more Halter commentary and results from his poll.)

Asked if he would push for an initiated act should the legislature not implement the lottery in a way he sees fit, Halter said he would not rule it out.

Halter also addressed the possibility that the lottery does not raise $100 million annually, as his office has predicted it will. He said in that case the state may need to take money from existing scholarship programs to fund the new scholarships. Otherwise existing scholarship programs would not be affected, he said.

At today’s press conference, Halter presented new poll data he commissioned through HOPE for Arkansas, the organization he created to convince voters to approve the lottery. The poll found that 74 percent of Arkansas voters believe lack of scholarship funds is a big problem; 81 percent think the scholarship process is currently too complex; 72 percent want to award scholarships based on achievement, not family income; 81 percent support scholarships for adults who return to school; 60 percent oppose giving scholarships only to families that make less than $75,000; and 98 percent think it’s important for Arkansans to be able to go to college.

Opinion Research, a Little Rock firm, conducted the poll. It has a sample size of 400 and a 5 percent margin of error.

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