Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bills moving, New Office of Higher Education director named, Senate hears many higher education bills

Yesterday at the Capitol

Bills moving quickly with first deadline approaching
Both the House and Senate met in brief floor sessions yesterday in order to process committee reports, bill introductions, and messages from the other body. With the approach of the first committee deadline Friday, more frequent floor sessions are being held to facilitate the movement of bills between committees.

David Metzen picked to head Office of Higher Education
Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced yesterday that David Metzen, former South St. Paul superintendent and a longtime University of Minnesota regent, including chair of the Board of Regents from 2003-05, will replace Susan Heegaard as the Director of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education.

"Minnesota has a world-class higher education system," said Metzen. "Our challenge is to help more Minnesotans achieve the promise of higher education while enhancing the performance of our higher education institutions. I look forward to helping Governor Pawlenty further his vision for higher education and working with our partners around Minnesota." Metzen will begin his new position March 26.

Senate Higher Ed takes up variety of bills
The Senate Higher Education Committee met yesterday to consider a number of policy bills. Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, sponsored SF 1324, a bill that sets conditions on athletic scholarships that says state appropriation cannot be used for athletic scholarships for student who are not citizens of the United States.

Sen. Vandeveer said because money is tight, athletic scholarships should be targeted at Minnesota residents. Members adopted an amendment providing that if a student is a resident for tuition purposes or from a state with tuition reciprocity, the student is eligible for an athletic scholarship.

St. Cloud State University Athletic Director, Morris Kurtz, testified and raised concern about the message that this sends to the system's international students. Members laid the bill over.

Sen. Vandeveer also testified to a second bill, SF 1388, which encourages the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to develop a system to streamline the human resources system to facilitate transfers between institutions. The bill was approved and laid over for inclusion in the omnibus policy bill.

Also heard yesterday was SF 1315, authored by Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm. The bill provides a refundable income tax credit for payment of principal and interest on student loans. Tomassoni said higher education costs are becoming prohibitive and the bill is aimed at helping students manage their debt load after graduation. The measure was laid over.

Two bills relating to retirement were also discussed. SF 1267, carried by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, allows tenured faculty to switch to the Teacher Retirement Association plan. The bill was approved and re-referred to the State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee. SF 1266, carried by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, authorizes the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to offer early separation incentive for employees. The measure was also approved and sent to the State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee.

Also heard was SF 661, a bill that expands the requirements for post-secondary institutions to report resident student information to the secretary of state for voter registration purposes. Members laid over the provision for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill. The balance of the bill, allowing for online voter registration if the Web site maintained by the secretary of state provides a process for it, was approved and advanced to the Senate floor.

The final bill, SF 819, allows a post-secondary institution to advertise or otherwise recruit or solicit the participation of high school students to enroll in PSEO. The bill was approved and re-referred to the Education Committee. Chair Pappas also requested the language be included in the omnibus bill.

At the Capitol:
Legislative schedules are available for the House and Senate.

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