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House Committee Advances Bill Allowing Arkansas College Athletes To Make Money Off Publicity Rights

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Arkansas House
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A bill that would allow college-level student athletes in Arkansas to make money off of their name, voice, signature, photograph or likeness passed its first legislative hurdle on Tuesday.

The House Education Committee by a voice vote, with no dissenting votes heard, approved House Bill 1671, which would create the "Student-Athlete Publicity Rights Act."

Under the legislation, college athletes would be able to enter into contracts and receive "compensation for the commercial use of the student athlete’s publicity rights." Said contracts would not affect students’ eligibility for scholarships. The bill also does not allow for student athletes to be paid for participating in school sports. 

There are some restrictions on what contracts student athletes could enter. They would not be able to promote "adult entertainment," alcohol products, casinos and gambling, weapons or other products listed in the legislation. 

House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, presented the bill to the committee, saying the practice of allowing higher education students to enter contracts for compensation is already allowed in other capacities. 

"This is just simply leveling the playing field and allowing Arkansas really to be one of the frontrunners here in the country. But it’s important for us to deal with this now. As we all know the legislature, if we don’t act now, it may be two years before we have the opportunity to act. And by that time, the ship may have sailed proverbially," Shepherd said.

Supporters of the bill said other states, including Florida, are considering similar legislation. Committee chairman Rep. Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, addressed that concern in a question to university officials who were there to testify in favor of the bill Tuesday. 

"I think that what I’m hearing is this [has] a lot to do with not losing our students to other colleges that would have this to offer them. And we could lose students that would go to another college just for that reason," Cozart said. 

Hunter Yurachek, Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics of the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, agreed.

"Whether you’re the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville or Arkansas State, we want to put walls around our state and keep the best talent for students and athletes within the confines of our institutions here. And without this opportunity, they may choose to go to an institution in the state of Florida that gives them an opportunity to monetize their name, image and likeness," Yurachek said.

Sam Pittman, head coach of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks football team, also spoke in favor of the bill, saying not passing this legislation would put Arkansas at a disadvantage recruitment-wise.

"I’m sitting in a home and I’m saying you know, 'Come to Arkansas,' all these different wonderful reasons to come to the university. And they’re over there, going to Oklahoma and they’re going 'Well Oklahoma says I’m going to have opportunities to make money on my name, likeness and image.' I’m screwed. I’m done," Pittman said.

No one spoke against the legislation. The bill now goes to the House floor for a vote from all members.

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