The first bill filed in the 2009 legislative session Monday carried symbolic weight and political heft but was scanty on substance.
Incoming House Speaker Robbie Wills' one-page bill is a shell for what will become a bill to create and regulate state lotteries. It noted that voters approved the constitutional amendment this month and the revenue would be dedicated for college scholarships.
"This is appropriate that this be the first bill filed," said Wills, a Conway Democrat. "It's an historic opportunity." Monday was the first day of pre-filing for the legislative session that begins Jan. 12. No other bills were filed Monday.
Details will be added to House Bill 1002 as the session nears, Wills said, adding that he has talked with incoming Senate leader Bob Johnson, D-Bigelow, on how both chambers can "work in concert" on lottery legislation "as the speaker and pro-tem have done in the past" on major bills.
Wills also said he has "visited several times" with Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who championed the lottery amendment.
"We certainly recognize the leadership he provided getting the issue on the ballot," said Wills, who added that he'd welcome any "input or suggestions" from Halter or Gov. Mike Beebe.
Halter released a statement late Monday saying that he thinks "it's great that three members of the Arkansas legislature have heard the overwhelming voice of Arkansas voters who said less than two weeks ago that they want a scholarship lottery for our state. I hope we will all work together in moving Arkansas up from 49th in higher education." Sen. Terry Smith, D-Hot Springs, who has been working on a lottery "white paper" that would look at other states such as Georgia and Tennessee as models for how to implement a lottery, said he didn't feel pre-empted by Wills' bill and had no plans to file his own this week.
[Editor: Sen. Smith, please look to Georgia — not Tennessee — for information about how to conduct open, verifiable, and thus trustworthy, lottery drawings.]
Smith said Johnson had told him that the Senate and House would work together on the issue.
Reps. Gregg Reep, D-Warren, and Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, are co-sponsors of the House bill.
In the past, the lottery issue has stirred religious and anti-gambling opposition.
Voters on Nov. 4 approved a constitutional amendment backed by Lt. Gov. Bill Halter authorizing a state-run lottery to raise money for scholarships, but the details of how to set up the lottery and scholarships were left up to lawmakers. Halter has said he plans to talk with lawmakers and state officials about ideas for setting up the lottery and the scholarships.
One of the first questions facing lawmakers is whether a new agency or entity will be needed to oversee the games, and how much it will cost to start up the state's lottery. Halter has said one possibility is to create an independent commission to run the games and he's pointed out that other states have taken out loans to start a lottery.
Lawmakers must also decide how the scholarships will be distributed among college students.
Opponents of the lottery have said they hope to persuade lawmakers not to establish any lottery at all, or to otherwise put restrictions on the types of games that would be allowed under the amendment.