Originally created 04/02/04

Panel will meet to discuss HOPE



ATLANTA - Legislation paving the way for formal legislative negotiations on changes to the HOPE Scholarship passed the Senate late Thursday, ending a brief gridlock that had threatened to undermine the search for an agreement.

The bill passed 30-23 after little discussion.

A formal House-Senate conference committee to hammer out an agreement between the two chambers will now be created. Either the House or the Senate would have to pass an altered version of the other chamber's bill to trigger the creation of the panel.

Two Democratic amendments to the bill were defeated. An amendment stripping the so-called "trigger" provision, which would scale back and then eliminate payment for books and fees if the program were forced to tap its reserves, was defeated on a 24-28 vote. Another proposal that supporters said would make it easier for part-time students to keep the HOPE Scholarship failed on a 24-28 vote.

Both sides said negotiations appeared to be going well. Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Bill Hamrick, R-Carrollton, said the "general outlines" of a compromise were close to being settled.

"I guess the main sticking point would be in the details of how to do the trigger," Mr. Hamrick said.

An attempt to pass an amended version of the House proposal through the Senate faltered last week.

There are several similarities between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Both have a requirement that students meet a tougher, "true B" average in high school to be eligible for the scholarship, and both add new checkpoints to make sure recipients maintain a 3.0 grade point average in college.

Though both bills also have a trigger, there are substantial differences between those triggers that will have to be worked out by the conference committee over the next several days.

To pass the General Assembly this year, a bill reforming HOPE, which stands for Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally, would have to clear both houses by the 40th and final legislative day. A resolution passed by both the House and the Senate on Thursday marked Wednesday as the final day.

Mr. Hamrick said he believed a compromise could still be reached in time to pass the General Assembly.