- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - The Georgia Legislature, packed in both houses with University of Georgia graduates, has shown just how seriously it takes football.

The state Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed what’s been dubbed the “Todd Gurley bill,” making it a crime to bribe or entice student athletes to break NCAA rules by taking money.

Gurley, a University of Georgia running back who was kicked off the Bulldogs’ football team for four games last fall for accepting money for autographs, was considered a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, and his suspension took the steam out of Georgia’s hopes for a Southeastern Conference championship and a major post-season bowl.

Gurley, who’s expected by many to be a first-round NFL draft pick, returned after his suspension only to suffer a season-ending injury his first game back. Then on Dec. 26, he announced he would forgo his remaining eligibility, making himself eligible for the 2015 draft.

Officials at UGA found out about Gurley’s autographs when a man who paid the football star notified news media outlets and the university’s compliance office.

That didn’t sit well with UGA officials or alumni, including state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, a double graduate of UGA with bachelor’s and law degrees.

In January, Fleming proposed a bill to punish “solicitors of student-athlete transactions,” and there was talk of a fine as high as $25,000.

That turned out to be an exaggeration, but the bill passed by the Senate would make it a “high and aggravated misdemeanor” to solicit student athletes to accept money, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, who presented the bill in the Senate, noted that alumni have been known to be overzealous in enticing or inducing athletes.

The legislation, House Bill 3 to reflect the number on Gurley’s jersey, was approved 48-4 as several lawmakers yelled “Go, Dawgs!”

When he drafted the bill, Fleming was quoted by the Athens Banner-Herald as saying that he felt the legislation was needed because “the individual who enticed (Gurley) to sell his autograph was not punished.”

He compared the offense to selling alcohol to minors.

The Gurley bill passed the state House two weeks ago. Now that it’s passed the Senate, it goes to Gov. Nathan Deal.

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