Friday, May 14, 2010

Countdown to session end; Federal updates on STEM, stimulus funds and credit cards

Legislative Update
May 14, 2010

Countdown to the end of session

With just a little over two days remaining until adjournment, legislative leaders and Gov. Pawlenty continue to negotiate a session-ending deal to balance the budget. According to the constitution, lawmakers must adjourn Monday, May 17, but note the Legislature is not allowed to pass bills the last day of session. So for all practical purposes, the Legislature will adjourn Sunday at midnight.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said today that the Senate has completed its work and is waiting to put the final touches on the budget balancing approach that will be acceptable to the governor. Pogemiller said if something comes out of conference committee that is good for the state, the Senate will pass it, but there is nothing left that needs to be passed other than a budget bill. Others are arguing there is still a K-12 education bill that should be passed.

The K-12 education bill has traveled a long road this session. The original bill, HF 2431, which made its way through the committee process this session, was tabled late last week in the House Ways and Means committee, so it has been replaced with HF 3833, the most recent omnibus K-12 education bill. That bill was fast-tracked and passed the House earlier this week by a vote of 86-47. The Senate does not have an omnibus K-12 education finance and policy bill, instead the Senate has split proposals into smaller bills. Lacking a Senate companion, the fate of the House K-12 education bill is unknown.

The higher education policy bill moved this week. After conferees met for the first and only time and passed the conference committee report Wednesday, the Senate passed the bill by a vote of 62-2, and the House passed it 113-17. The bill, SF 184, now heads to the governor. You may find the complete bill here.

A final summary of the 2010 Minnesota legislative session will be sent out Monday, May 17 after the Legislature adjourns sine die.

Please find the latest federal news below.

Science funding legislation stalls

The U.S. House was expected to vote on the America COMPETES law Thursday but the legislation was sent back to committee. This legislation would have doubled the budget of the National Science Foundation, continued funding for science and research programs for five years, and emphasized training in science, technology, engineering and math. The America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education and Science (COMPETES) Act was originally enacted in 2007. It was sent back to committee after Republicans raised concern about the bill creating too many programs and spending too much money.

No stimulus funding for teachers?

Colleges and universities may not receive extra stimulus funding this year to prolong teaching contracts. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a $58.8 billion supplemental appropriations bill Thursday that did not include the teacher funding provision. Senator Todd Harkin, D-Iowa, originally proposed the education legislation calling for $23.3 billion to be used to "starve off the coming wave of teacher layoffs," he wrote in a press release. Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to leadership including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, asking them to reconsider and support this legislation.

Credit card swipe fees reduced under amendment

College bookstores received a victory this week in Congress. The U.S. Senate voted 64-33 Thursday to pass an amendment which would require that fees associated with paying for books on a credit card be "reasonable and proportional" to the cost of the transaction, which could lower the fees colleges pay when students use credit and debit cards to pay for tuition or books. The fees average 1 to 2 percent of the purchase. This amendment is likely to benefit students as costs are sometimes passed onto the consumer. The amendment was tacked onto S.3217, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010.