LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said Thursday that he'll back proposed legislation that would make it a felony for sports agents to give cash or other financial incentives to student-athletes to entice them to sign a contract.
Such activity is now a misdemeanor in Arkansas, though McDaniel, a Democrat, said no one's been prosecuted since it became law in 2001.
Under the new legislation, which was filed Thursday by freshman Republican state lawmaker David Sanders in advance of Monday's start of the legislative session, the maximum fine that could be imposed on offenders would go from the current $50,000 to $250,000. Penalties would also extend to anyone who seeks financial benefits for a contract -- including a student-athlete's parents.
McDaniel said the proposed legislation has broad bipartisan support and that he expects it to pass easily. He and Sanders said there have been no complaints in Arkansas of unscrupulous agent behavior and that the measure is meant to serve as a deterrent. Sanders said he began studying the issue last summer -- when he was running for election -- after the NCAA penalized Southern California for improper benefits given to Heisman winner Reggie Bush.
The school was placed on four years' probation, received a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 30 scholarships over a three-year period, 10 annually from 2011-13.
Toughening the penalties for agents -- or anyone who offers cash or freebies to lure an athlete to sign a contract -- takes some of the burden off the schools, Sanders said.
The athlete "goes on to his NFL career. The coaching staff moves on," Sanders said. "When the NCAA investigates ... It affects an entire new group of players, an entire new coaching staff and a fan base that is left shrugging its shoulders."
Arkansas is one of about 40 states with a Uniform Athletes Agent Act, which requires agents to register with the state and notify schools immediately when they sign college athletes. An Associated Press review last summer found that although such laws are common, they are rarely enforced.
McDaniel said the current law isn't enforced because the penalties -- now a misdemeanor and a $50,000 fine -- aren't tough enough and it's not viewed as a serious crime.
"I'm very concerned about the idea of a Ferrari-driving agent in Los Angeles bearing very little risk while people in Arkansas are the ones bearing the greater risk," he said.
As of last summer, the Uniform Athlete Agents Act had been passed in 40 states, Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to the NCAA. Penalties vary by state but a handful -- including Washington and West Virginia -- already make it a felony for an agent to offer financial incentives for an athlete to sign a contract.