ATLANTA -- A bill that is part of Gov. Nathan Deal's plan to save the HOPE Scholarship program passed the Georgia House of Representatives overwhelmingly Tuesday afternoon.
The measure, unveiled only last Tuesday, would help keep the program from going broke. The GOP-supported legislation passed on a 152-22 vote. Now on a fast track, HB 326 heads to the State Senate for consideration.
"The legislative process is working effectively," Gov. Deal said in a statement. "We've put together the right piece of legislation that keeps our programs among the most generous in the nation while placing them on firm financial footing. Today, we are one step closer to ensuring that HOPE endures for Georgia's best and brightest and pre-k continues to prepare 4-year-old Georgians for educational excellence."
The legislation would cut scholarship disbursements to 90 percent for all but the top students, and would cut out payments for books, fees and remedial classes.
"This is a realistic and sensible approach to preserve HOPE for today and tomorrow's young Georgians," House Speaker David Ralston said in a statement.
The Governor praised bi-partisan support of his plan, pointing out that only a few House Republicans voted against it while two-thirds of the Democrats voted for it.
A handful of Democrats spoke out against it during the nearly 2 hour debate.
They claimed it is biased toward the rich.
"When are we going to stop benefiting off of the back of poor people?" asked Rep. Gloria Tinubu (D-Atlanta).
"When is enough, enough?" she added.
But the leading Democrat in the House, who helped write the changes, said it still preserves college dreams for all of Georgia's children, rich and poor.
"College is the reason that I'm standing here and not sitting somewhere in Hattiesburg, Mississippi with my fifth or seventh child," said Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta).
"Access to education is the reason I'm standing here today as the Minority Leader and not sitting in someone's prison," she added.
Abrams was the only speaker to draw any applause.
The House version made two changes to the Governor's plan.
Instead of having to maintain a 3.5 GPA to keep the 100% HOPE scholarship, students can hold onto it with a 3.3 average.
And instead of having their take of lottery winnings cut from 7% down to 5%, retailers would get to keep 6%.
11Alive News will present a special report on the challenges facing the program, Losing HOPE, Wednesday night at 11 p.m. Our extended coverage can also be found on our special HOPE web page.