Friday, May 1, 2009

Higher education and bonding conference committees begin to meet; Two weeks of session remain

Higher education conferees begin working through differences
Conferees for the higher education bill met this week to work through the differences between the House and Senate bills. Senate conferees include Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul; Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan; Sen. Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester; Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park; and Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona. Conferees on the House side include Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia; Rep. Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield; Rep. Larry Haws, DFL-St. Cloud; Rep. David Bly, DFL-Northfield; and Rep. Carol McFarlane, R-White Bear Lake.

Conferees have adopted language in the two bills that is the same or similar and now are working to come to an agreement on the bigger issues including the budget. Co-chairs Sen. Pappas and Rep. Rukavina said they will conduct an open and inclusive process and asked for testimony from anyone with concerns on any of the provisions in either bill.

The same or similar language that was adopted includes the course equivalency provision that directs the system to maintain course equivalency guides with information on the course equivalency and awarding of credit for learning acquired as a result of the successful completion of formal military courses and occupational training.

Another provision adopted yesterday is language that encourages the Board of Trustees to place a priority on identifying and implementing measures to improve the human resources system used by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to increase efficiencies and equity for faculty and staff.

Conferees adopted the language pertaining to American Indian scholarships that provides for the Minnesota Office of Higher Education director to contract with at least one person with demonstrated competence in American Indian culture to assist students with scholarships and other financial aid. Bemidji State University is to provide office space to administer the American Indian scholarship program.

Also adopted is language that requires the Office of Higher Education to report to the Legislature on implementation of textbook information requirements under federal code.

There has been discussion on the state grant program and how each body and the governor packages the state grant surplus. Jacob Littler of the Minnesota State College Student Association and Graeme Allen with the Minnesota State University Student Association testified that using the state grant surplus to increase the living and miscellaneous expense, or LME, is the most equitable for students. No action has been taken on the state grant, and conferees indicated financial aid would be further discussed Monday. The conference committee meets again at 9 a.m. Monday in Room 118 of the Capitol.

The side-by-side comparison of the two bills prepared by the Revisor’s office can be found here.

Bonding conference committee update
The Capital Investment Conference Committee met early this week and heard from Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson regarding Gov. Tim Pawlenty's letter sent April 24 to bonding conferees. Hanson reiterated that a $275 million bonding bill is too large and emphasized that projects should be "shovel ready." The governor has said he is not in favor of projects that build new facilities, but rather wants to focus on preserving existing buildings. The governor also has said he would like to see flood mitigation funding to address the immediate needs in northwestern Minnesota.

Capital Investment conferees may meet again as soon as this evening. Currently, $5 million in HEAPR separates the system in the Senate and House bills. The last Senate proposal is $45 million in HEAPR and the five vetoed projects. The House is at $40 million in HEAPR and also includes the five projects. Those projects include the health and science center addition at Lake Superior College; the carpentry and industrial mechanical technology shops at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College; the smart classroom center at Metropolitan State University; the center for business and technology at North Hennepin Community College; and the systemwide classroom renovation initiative at Central Lakes College, Minnesota State Community and Technical College, Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Northland Community and Technical College, Pine Technical College, and Rochester Community and Technical College.

Approximately two weeks remain to reach agreement
This week at the Legislature consisted of long floor sessions and even longer conference committees. Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said the work by conference committees on four omnibus appropriation bills should be completed this weekend with the intent of having them to the governor by the middle of next week. Those bills include agriculture and veterans affairs, transportation finance, economic development, and environment and natural resources.

While conference committees meet, the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy also is meeting to discuss budget targets. Speaker Anderson Kelliher has called for transparency as the House, Senate and the governor work toward a 2010-2011 biennial budget agreement. Anderson Kelliher emphasized that as the constitutionally required deadline of May 18 nears, there will be some closed-door negotiations, but she expects more work to be done openly through the committee process.

Trustees confirmed by full Senate
The full Senate confirmed Cheryl Dickson, Jacob Englund, Clarence Hightower, Allyson Lueneburg, Louise Sundin and Terri Thomas as members of the Board of Trustees of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities earlier this week after the Senate Higher Education Policy Committee recently put forth the recommendation. The committee recommended the final trustee confirmation of David Paskach this week. That recommendation will head to the full Senate for final confirmation. David Metzen was also confirmed by the full Senate as director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

Congress passes FY 2010 budget resolution
The House of Representatives passed a FY 2010 budget resolution this week by a vote of 233-193. The Senate then passed the resolution by a vote of 53-43. The budget resolution provides approximately $1.06 trillion to be divided among the 12 appropriations bills, including the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education bill. Congress is expected to begin the appropriations process shortly, with the expectation that appropriation bills will be finalized in the fall. It is also expected that President Obama will submit his budget priorities the first week of May.

The budget calls for the education committees to reduce spending in programs by $1 billion over the next five years. However, the resolution also contains reserve funds that would allow the committees to spend for a specific purpose. It allows for a higher education reserve fund to accommodate legislation that would impact access to higher education. This could allow for a measure that increases funding for the Pell Grant program, including the maximum award, and shifts all higher education loans to be made through the Direct Loan Program as suggested by President Obama. The appropriations committees will determine final funding levels for education and each specific program.

Here's What's Happening at the Capitol:
This schedule shows all meetings that we are aware of at the time of publication that MAY have an impact on the system. This schedule may change. Please watch the House and Senate schedules posted on the Legislature web site.

Monday, May 4

9:00 AM
Higher Education Conference Committee
Room: 118 Capitol
Chairs: Rep. Tom Rukavina, Sen. Sandy Pappas
Agenda: higher ed bill

11:00 AM
Senate in Session

12:00 PM
House in Session

Time to be announced
E-12 Education Conference Committee
Room: 200 State Office Building
Chairs: Sen. LeRoy A. Stumpf and Rep. Mindy Greiling
Agenda: H.F. 2-Stumpf: Omnibus K-12 appropriations.

Tuesday, May 5

8:00 AM
House Finance
Room: TBD
Chair: Rep. Lyndon Carlson
Agenda: HF1193 (Koenen) Department of Corrections and Department of Employment and Economic Development claims settlement provided, and money appropriated.
HF1218 (Lillie) State labor contracts ratified.
HF905 (Doty) Commissioner of military affairs authorized to accept uncompensated and voluntary services.
SF666/HF985 (Hayden) Children aging out of foster care provisions modified.
HF1988 (Murphy, E.) Managed care plan and county-based purchasing plan provider medical assistance (MA) reimbursement rate information annual report requirement
HF1565 (Kelly) Goodhue County; Nursing facility beds consolidated and relocated to a new site.
HF682 (Magnus) Rock County; Nobles County; State rail line loan forgiven.
HF108 (Norton) Seat belt violation made a primary offense in all seating positions regardless of age.