Friday, April 20, 2012

MnSCU Legislative Update -- Higher Ed Bills Pass House and Senate

After a very brief floor discussion and two failed attempts at amending the bill, the Senate passed the higher education omnibus bill on Tuesday afternoon by a vote of 65-0. The first attempted amendment would have added language regarding the Minnesota FastTRAC adult career pathway program in order to increase the number of adults with postsecondary credentials in high-demand occupations that lead to livable wages. The amendment was ruled out of order because it appropriates $4.5 million for the program, which would bring the budget out of balance.

The second amendment, brought forward by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, would have added an additional student member of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents. Author of the bill Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, said the issue was discussed and voted on in committee and did not pass. Fischbach said committee members determined they needed more time to discuss the issue.

Also on the floor Tuesday, the Senate confirmed the Board of Trustees appointments: Duane Benson, Jacob Englund, Phil Krinkie, Alfredo Oliveira, Tom Renier, and Michael Vekich. The trustees were confirmed by the Senate Higher Education committee last session and have been awaiting a full floor vote.

The House took up the higher education omnibus bill Thursday and after the bill author Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, explained the House version, passed it by a vote of 129-1. There were no amendments. As a reminder, included in both the House and Senate bills is language on textbooks and provides for a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities textbook work group. Also both bills include language that would increase the revenue fund authority from $300 million to $405 million for schools to evaluate and plan for the future in the area of dorms, student unions, dining facilities, parking and other revenue generating facilities. The Senate bill includes the continuing operations language which would allow the colleges and universities access to their cash in the event of a government shutdown. Now that the House and Senate have both passed their version of the bill, it will head to conference committee to work through the differences. We will continue to keep you posted once a conference committee meeting is announced.

Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders continue to meet in closed-door sessions to negotiate how to wrap up the 2012 session. According to Minnesota Public Radio, those discussions have been focused primarily on a tax bill and bonding bill. Dayton said he’s still hopeful he and the Legislature can find common ground and get a bonding bill passed, but unlike last session, he said there’s really nothing that has to be done.

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said the bonding bill will come up on Friday in the Senate. Meanwhile the Vikings stadium bill, which was voted down in committee Monday evening, is still being discussed. Dayton is asking lawmakers to vote on the bill, even if it doesn’t pass. He said he’d like to see all legislators be able to vote on the bill, rather than just a 15-member committee.

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