Friday, February 3, 2012

MnSCU Legislative Update Jan 30-Feb 3

On Monday the Minnesota Office of Higher Education and the Minnesota Department of Education announced an initiative to increase enrollment in higher education by raising awareness of the need to complete the FAFSA. According to the press release issued yesterday, “One of the barriers to accessing higher education is financing the rising cost of tuition and fees. Unfortunately, too many students do not apply for financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).” You may find the complete press release here.

The House and Senate agreed Tuesday on committee deadlines for the session. By March 16 committees must act favorably on bills in the house of origin; by March 23 committees must act favorably on bills, or companion bills, that met the first deadline in the other body; and by March 30 committees must act favorably on major appropriation and finance bills. These deadlines do not apply to the Capital Investment committees, Ways and Means, or Finance.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system presented their bonding request to House Higher Education Policy and Finance committee members yesterday afternoon. Chancellor Steven Rosenstone told members the system’s request of $278 million ($222 million in state financing and $56 million from system resources) is focused on the infrastructure necessary for advancing Minnesota’s workforce. Rosenstone said each of the projects that make up the request have been through a rigorous prioritization process and told members the request is made up of only the system’s most urgent needs.

Associate Vice Chancellor for Facilities Brian Yolitz emphasized the importance of asset preservation and replacement (HEAPR), and told members the HEAPR request of $110 million reflects the system’s number one priority and will fund projects at 53 campuses around the state. Yolitz said investments in HEAPR is as much about the buildings as it is about protecting and sustaining workforce training capacity. Yolitz also explained the projects on the list saying the projects touch technical labs, STEM, allied health, as well as the general education and baccalaureate needs of the workforce. “We are committed to being very efficient and effective in our execution of approved projects and quickly creating jobs that will put thousands of Minnesotans to work in local communities and throughout the state,” Yolitz said.

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, said what’s critically important is two-fold; HEAPR, but also the students who need the classrooms and labs to learn and succeed. Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, agreed with Morrow and said HEAPR funding matters, but it also matters to have buildings and classrooms in order to teach students.

Don Larsson with the Inter Faculty Organization (IFO) told committee members that the IFO fully supports the system’s bonding request and said the $110 million HEAPR request is more than justified because it affects faculty’s ability to teach and students’ ability to learn. Amanda Bardonner, chair of the Minnesota State University Student Association said HEAPR projects can be implemented immediately, and Geoff Dittberner, president of the Minnesota State College Student Association emphasized a “fix it first” approach by placing an emphasis on HEAPR needs.

The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system presented its capital budget request to the Senate Higher Education committee on Wednesday. Similar to Tuesday’s presentation in the House Higher Education committee, Chancellor Steven Rosenstone emphasized the importance of funding the full request of $278 million ($222 million in state funding) in order to advance Minnesota’s workforce. The impact the system’s request has on jobs and workforce is two-fold; the immediate impact of putting people to work in the area of design and construction, but also the importance of labs and classroom space in order to prepare students for Minnesota’s workforce. Rosenstone said, “In my first few months on the job, I have been particularly struck by the broad and deep impact of the system on our economy, citizens and businesses.” He told members that the more than 850 buildings and nearly 27 million square feet that make up the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is where teaching and learning happens.

Also meeting on Wednesday was the Senate Local Government and Elections committee to take up the bill to amend the constitution to require voters to show photo identification in order to vote. State Chair Amanda Bardonner testified in front of the committee outlining MSUSA’s concerns with the bill. After five hours of testimony, the committee recessed without taking any action on the bill. Those in opposition to the bill include college and university students who are concerned the requirement will deter many students from voting because the ID may not reflect a student’s current address. Last session, a voter ID bill passed the Legislature, but Gov. Dayton vetoed the bill. A constitutional amendment only needs a simple majority in the House and Senate, but the governor cannot veto it.

Due to the precinct caucus break, the House did not meet on Thursday or Friday; however, the Senate met in a short floor session and held committee hearings on Thursday. The Senate Finance committee, chaired by Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, took up the confirmation of Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter. Schowalter told committee members he has worked to serve the state the best he’s able. By a unanimous vote, committee members confirmed Schowalter and sent his confirmation to the full Senate for a vote.

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