Tuesday, March 31, 2009

House unveils bonding bill, House budget proposed

House unveils bonding bill
The House Capital Investment committee presented the House bonding bill yesterday in committee. Included in the bill for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities is $67.9 million; $30 million in HEAPR and the 5 vetoed projects from last session. Those projects include $11 million for the health and science center addition at Lake Superior College; $5 million for carpentry and industrial mechanical technology shops at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College; $4.98 million for the smart classroom center at Metropolitan State University; $13.3 million for the center for business and technology at North Hennepin Community College; and $3.635 million for the system wide 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.

The bill is scheduled for mark-up and passage today at 2:45 p.m. From there, the bill will head to the House Finance committee at 6:30 this evening. Tomorrow, the House Ways and Means committee is expected to take it up at 2:45 p.m.

House proposes budget for 134 members and 235 staff
House of Representatives Controller Paul Schweizer testified in the Rules and Legislative Administration Committee yesterday about the House budget. According to Session Daily, with a projected 6 percent reduction to the two-year operating budget, House staff won’t receive a pay increase during the 2010-2011 biennium, and 18 vacant positions will be left unfilled. The House operates with 134 members and 235 staff positions.

Session Daily reports the other proposed budget adjustments which include:
• restricting member reimbursement for year-round lodging to the first year of the biennium;
• a 6 percent increase in employee health insurance premium costs in each year of the biennium;
• no reimbursement for out-of-state travel; and
• voluntary leave of absences will be encouraged.

The proposal is to be considered next by the House State Government Finance Division.

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

Monday, March 30, 2009

Schedules are available

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

Friday, March 27, 2009

More bills move in Senate

Yesterday at the Capitol

Bills moving through the Senate

The Senate Finance committee took up SF 1106, the bill that establishes licensure and practice limitations for oral health practitioners in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and dental therapists at the University of Minnesota. The bill passed and was sent to the Rules and Administration Committee.

The Higher Education Budget Division heard a variety of bills yesterday, including SF 1540, authored by Sen. Claire Robling, DFL-Jordan, which requires the Office of Higher Education, in consultation with textbook publishers, the Student Advisory council, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, the University of Minnesota and the Private College Council, to report on the implementation of textbook information requirements. The bill requires the report to include a template that publishers may use to provide the required information in a consistent format to all Minnesota campuses and to make recommendations of methods to disseminate pricing information to support students and faculty in making well informed decisions about course materials.

The bill also provides for an award of up to $150, to be used in conjunction with the base Achieve scholarship award, to students completing at least one online course in high school. However, Sen. Robling offered an amendment to delete the portion of the bill providing for the $150 award. The bill was laid over for inclusion in the division's omnibus bill.

Another bill, SF 1315, authored by Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, provides a refundable tax credit for payment of principal and interest on student loans. Tomassoni said the bill provides relief for new graduates paying off their student loans. However, Chair Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said, given the current budget crisis, the committee should not forward an open ended tax bill to the Tax Committee. The bill was laid over for further work.

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

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Labor bill advances

Yesterday at the Capitol

The Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee met yesterday to take up a variety of bills, including SF 1036, the bill that ratifies labor contracts that were not finished in time to be ratified last session. Included is the MSUAASF contract, Commissioner's plan and the Managerial plan. The bill was approved and sent to the full Finance Committee.

Also heard and acted on yesterday was SF 867, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Saltzman DFL-Woodbury. The bill, which was heard in the Senate Education committee, modifies charter school provisions by adding responsibilities to the charter school advisory council, clarifies health and safety requirements, requires charter schools to publish an annual report and modifies aid payments to charter schools. The bill was approved and heads next to the State and Local Government Operation and Oversight Committee.

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

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.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Schedules are available

The first committee deadline is this Friday, March 27. Committees need to act on policy bills in the house of origin. This means we will see long agendas and bills popping up fairly quickly. Please monitor the schedules as agendas will be sure to change often. Have a great Monday.

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

Friday, March 20, 2009

Budgets are released, P-16 discussed, Higher education-related bills heard

What the Governor and House budgets mean for the System
There is now more detail known for the Governor's revised budget. For the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system Gov. Pawlenty's revised budget is a base cut of $161.8 million for the 2010-11 biennium, about $15 million more than the $146 million cut he originally recommended back in January. The Governor has also recommended $133 million in one-time federal stimulus funds for the System.


The House released their budget targets yesterday and they have echoed the Governor's cuts; a $161.8 million cut to the system's base budget in 2010-11, with $133 million awarded to the system in federal stimulus funds. Moving into the next biennium of 2012-13, the Governor reverted back to his original cut of $146 million for an annual system budget of $608.597 million. The House on the other hand, leaves the base higher than the Governor at $656.597 million. So compared to what was forecast, the House is recommending a cut of $50 million to the system in 2012-13.


The House budget plan also calls for $1.5 billion in new revenue. Speaker Margaret Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said the House Taxes Committee would be coming forward with recommendations next week.

Senate takes up several P-16 related bills
The Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division met yesterday to take action on several bills, all of which were recommended for possible inclusion in the division's omnibus bill.

SF 851, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, establishes a Minnesota reading corps program and appropriates $1.7 million in FY 2010 and $1.7 million in FY 2011 from the general fund for the program. The reading corps program provides Americorps members with a data-based problem-solving model of reading instruction to use in training pre-kindergarten program providers and teachers with students in kindergarten through third grade, Saltzman said.

Another bill, SF 866, also sponsored by Sen. Saltzman clarifies the definition of comprehensive scientifically based reading instruction and creates additional requirements for teacher licensure. The bill requires an individual to complete and pass a reading instruction assessment before receiving an initial teaching license to teach students in pre-kindergarten or elementary programs, Saltzman said.

SF 1342, carried by Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, creates an alternative teacher preparation program and a resident teacher license for qualified nontraditional candidates. Matt Kramer, president and chief program officer, Teach for America, said the bill allows Teach for America students to teach in the state of Minnesota. This is beneficial for the state of Minnesota, he said, because after a student finishes the two-year Teach for America program, he or she may be more likely to stay in Minnesota and continue teaching here.

Senate Higher Education committee hears about oral health practitioners, credit caps and occupational programs
The Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division head a bill that establishes a mid-level oral health practitioner. SF 1106, authored by Sen. Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester, establishes licensure and practice limitations for an oral health practitioner and a dental therapist. Lynch said the aim of the bill is to increase access to dental health services in underserved areas. The bill includes two tracks for educational requirements, one through the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and one through the University of Minnesota.

Metropolitan State University, in partnership with Normandale Community College, has developed a program for oral health practitioners said Dean Marilyn Leon, College of Nursing and Health Sciences at Metro State. Dean Patrick Lloyd, School of Dentistry, University of Minnesota, talked about the dental therapist program the University if working on developing.

Sen. Lynch emphasized that there are two models contained in the bill, but they are not competing models. She said there is such a great need for dental services that both models could address the needs. The bill was approved and advanced to the full Finance committee.

Also on the agenda in the Senate yesterday were the three bills relating to the maximum number of credits for baccalaureate and associate degrees in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, known to many as 60-120.

SF 644, authored by Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, allows the Board of Trustees to determine the credit requirements for the two degrees. Current law sets the maximum number of credits for a baccalaureate degree at 120 credits or the equivalent and the number of credits required for an associate degree at 60 credits or the equivalent. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.

SF 579, sponsored by Sen. Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester, also relates to the maximum credit issue. Lynch said the measure offers a different approach. The bill exempts an associate of applied science degree from the 60 credit limit. The bill was amended to exempt the AAS degree until July 2, 2012 from the 60 credit limit. The measure was approved and re-referred to the Rules and Administration Committee.

And the third bill, SF 972, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona, allows waivers to the policy setting semester credit requirements. Erickson Ropes said the measure allows the board to provide a process for granting waivers for emerging and innovative programs and programs of special merit or need. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.

Committee members also heard a review of the system's occupational programs by the Office of the Legislative Auditor. Jody Hauer, program evaluator, Office of the Legislative Auditor, said the state colleges respond well to economic conditions and workforce needs, but they also need to more routinely assess job prospects for their occupational program graduates. Hauer said colleges rely heavily on program advisory committees to identify employer needs, but not all committees work effectively.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2009

BioBusiness bill heard; Prevailing wage may be suspended

"BioBusiness Alliance bill heard in Senate
The Senate Economic Development and Housing Budget Division met yesterday to hear multiple bills, including SF 952, authored by Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin. The bill appropriates $1.1 million each year in FY 2010 and 2011 from the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for the operation of the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota.

CEO Dale Wahlstrom, BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota, said the funds are to create, recruit, retain and expand biobusiness activity in the state. Wahlstrom said the funds will also be used to implement the destination 2025 statewide plan to promote the growth of biobusiness in Minnesota. Sparks said the bill allows Minnesota to stay competitive relative to other states and nations working in the biobusiness industry.

The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.

Suspension of prevailing wage bill to be introduced
Yesterday at the Capitol, Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, and Sen. Chris Gerlach, R-Apple Valley, held a press conference to talk about a bill they are introducing that would suspend prevailing wage requirements for contractor bidding on state jobs. Rep. Gottwalt said the proposal would lower the cost of state projects and allow for more people to be put to work. He said the proposed legislation would not do away with the law requiring contractors to pay a prevailing wage, which is based on a formula. The provision would kick-in and remain in effect for the calendar year following any November Forecast projecting at least a 1 percent budget deficit.

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Minnesota budget video

Commissioner Tom Hanson presents to the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce about the federal economic stimulus and its impact on Minnesota.




video

Governor revises his budget; Financial aid bills discussed

Governor revises his budget proposal
The governor presented revisions to his original budget recommendation yesterday, which take into account the $6.4 billion budget deficit projected in the Feb. budget forecast and federal stimulus funds for the state. The level of detail that explains the budget recommendation specifically for higher education and the system has not been made public yet. It is expected to be posted on the Minnesota Management and Budget Web site this morning.

The governor's original budget cut to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system of $146 million (base cut) will be restored with some one-time federal stimulus funds. Gov. Pawlenty also renewed his recommendation that both the system and the University of Minnesota freeze or cap tuition increases. Pawlenty also mentioned the Pell grant program and said that in his new budget, qualified students should receive increases in student grant funding due to an increase in the Pell grant program under the federal stimulus package.

We will continue to keep you updated as we learn more specifics.

Financial aid bills discussed in House
A proposal to cut financial aid for students at private, for-profit colleges was defeated in the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division hearing yesterday. HF1414, sponsored by Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, would have made students at schools such as Rasmussen College and Minnesota School of Business ineligible to receive money through the state grant program.

Grants to students at for-profit schools currently account for more than $20 million annually. Rep. Bigham said the bill would redirect that money to students at public colleges and universities and also private nonprofit schools like St. Olaf College, Macalester College and Hamline University.

Supporters of the bill argued the proposal would prioritize state dollars during a time of record deficits. Opponents said it would unfairly restrict the options for students to choose the education they think will work best for them. The companion bill awaits a hearing in the Senate.

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bonding bill passed by full Senate; Federal Stimulus resource; Review of occupational programs

Yesterday at the Capitol

Bonding bill passes Senate
The full Senate passed the capital investment bill on the floor yesterday with only 8 no votes. As a reminder, included in the bill for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is $90.28 million, $50 million in repair and replacement projects, and $40 million for the five vetoed projects from 2008. Those projects include $11.55 million for the health and science center addition at Lake Superior College; $5.25 million for carpentry and industrial mechanical technology shops at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College; $5.7 million for the smart classroom center at Metropolitan State University; $13.97 million for the center for business and technology at North Hennepin Community College; and $3.8 million for the system wide 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.

In the House, the Capital Investment committee will be hearing from finance division chairs with their committee's bonding recommendations. Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division Chair, Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, will present the higher education recommendation today at 2:45 in the basement hearing room of the State Office Building.

Federal Stimulus explained
A new resource guide to help understand the federal stimulus is available here. This guide provides an overview of all of the various state programs and the different areas of the federal grants they are administering. The document will be continually updated as more information becomes available. "Our goal is a transparent process allowing citizens to understand how and where these federal dollars are being used," said the State of Minnesota’s federal stimulus coordinator, Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget Tom Hanson. "This guide will provide citizens the most up to date information on the federal funds and how to access them." Funds are available to stabilize education funding and for workforce development.

Occupational program review
Job placement rate has some room for improvement with graduates of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The Office of the Legislative Auditor released its evaluation report of the system’s occupational programs yesterday. The major findings of the report include that the system generally does a good job of responding to employment needs and that programs are continually reviewed. Areas to improve upon include having a mission statement for colleges, more central control over employment markets and monitoring if campuses are following the state’s need, ensuring that graduates find jobs, and improving the roles of community advisory boards, to name a few. For a complete copy of the report, please visit here.

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

Monday, March 16, 2009

Legislative Schedules posted

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

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bonding bill advances, Senate hears higher education related bills

Bonding bill on fast track in Senate
The Senate Finance committee took up the $367 million Senate capital investment bill yesterday. Committee Chair Richard Cohen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill provides a limited kick start to Minnesota's economy by directing funds to projects that are ready to go.

SF 781, authored by Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, includes $90.28 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, including $50 million in HEAPR as well as the five vetoed projects from 2008. Those projects include; $11.55 million for the health and science center addition at Lake Superior College, $5.25 million for carpentry and industrial mechanical technology shops at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College, $5.7 million for the Smart classroom center at Metropolitan State University, $13.97 million for the center for business and technology at North Hennepin Community College and $3.8 million for 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.

Langseth said the bill should be done quickly, at least by April 1. He said close to 60 percent of the bill is for asset preservation and those projects can begin immediately. The bill was approved and sent to the Senate floor. The House Capital Investment committee is scheduled to hear from the Finance Division chairs next week with their committee's bonding recommendations.

A copy of the Senate bill can be found here.

Senate Higher Education committee processes bills
The Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division heard five bills yesterday including SF 361, sponsored by Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park. The bill creates course equivalency guides for military course work. Latz said the bill saves time and tuition dollars for veterans and creates an incentive for veterans to come to Minnesota for post-secondary education.

Deputy Commissioner Michael Pugliese, Veterans Affairs, said the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities already does a good job of providing credit for courses transferred from military experience. The bill was approved and laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.

Also heard was SF 537, sponsored by Sen. Ron Latz. The bill requires post-secondary institutions to notify prospective students of the potential effects of a criminal conviction on future employment. Mark Haase, director of public policy, Council on Crime and Justice, said the bill saves time and tuition for students who have a criminal background because they would be warned about future employment restrictions prior to entering their field of education.

Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, offered an amendment to add a notification for post-secondary students regarding the effect a criminal conviction may have on obtaining federal, state and other higher education financial aid. The amendment was approved. The bill was approved as amended and was re-referred to the Judiciary Committee. The bill was also laid over for inclusion in the omnibus bill.

Also of interest was SF 21, carried by Sen. Charles Wiger, DFL-Maplewood. SF 21 establishes a P-20 partnership. The measure was approved and re-referred to the State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee and was also laid over for inclusion in the omnibus bill.

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

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Federal Appropriations signed, State advances oral practitioner bill

President Obama signs FY2009 Appropriations Bill
The U.S. Senate passed the Omnibus Appropriations bill Tuesday night that will fund federal programs for fiscal year 2009, and President Obama signed the bill into law yesterday. The bill is a compilation of nine spending bills that the previous Congress was unable to finish before adjourning, including the Labor-HHS-Education bill. Overall, the bill spends $410 billion and provides a $4.4 billion increase in funding for educational programs over the fiscal year 2008 level. Included in the bill is $17.3 billion for Pell grants. In addition to the funds provided in the stimulus package, $17.3 billion would provide a maximum award of $5350 and is an increase of $3.1 billion over FY 2008.

Oral health practitioner bill advances
Two bills offering different approaches to establishing the requirements and practice limitations for an oral health practitioner were the focus of yesterday's Senate Health, Housing and Family Security Committee. Members heard extensive testimony on both bills before advancing one measure to the Committee on Finance.

SF 1106, sponsored by Sen. Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester, establishes licensure and practice limitations for an oral health practitioner. SF 641 sponsored by Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, establishes licensure and practice limitations for dental therapists.

Mike Scandrett, Minnesota Safety Net Coalition, said last year's legislation establishing a new mid-level dental professional called an oral health practitioner also established a work group to develop recommendations on the training and practice details. He said the result of the work group's recommendations are contained in SF 1106.

Scandrett said lack of access to dental care is one of the most important health problems for Minnesota children and adults, especially for those who are low-income, have a disability or special needs or live in rural areas. He said, according to the Dept. of Health, less than half of the low-income people who are on state health care programs received any dental care at all in 2006. He said the main barriers are the cost of dental care and a shortage of dentists who are willing to treat patients at reduced costs or practice in rural or communities or treatment settings.

Lynch said SF 1106 sets forth the licensure requirements for an oral health practitioner. Under the bill, the individual must have graduated with a bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited or approved oral health practitioner education program, passed a comprehensive, competency-based clinical exam and an exam on the state's laws and rules relating to dentistry. The bill also allows the oral health practitioner to use the services of dental assistants, dental technicians and licensed dental hygienists. Lynch said the bill requires the practitioner to practice under the supervision of a Minnesota licensed dentist, limits the practice to settings that serve low-income, uninsured, or underserved patients or settings located in a dental health professional area.

Prettner Solon said that SF 641 requires a dental therapist to work under the supervision of a Minnesota licensed dentist and requires the collaborating dentist to accept responsibility for all services authorized and performed by the dental therapist. The bill also provides that a dental therapist may perform preventive, evaluative and educational oral health services.

Marilyn Loen, dean, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, Metropolitan State University described the curriculum Metro State has developed for oral health practitioners. She said the scope of practice is widened under the Metro State approach to allow the individual to provide services to the underserved while the collaborative dentist is off-site.

Patrick Lloyd, dean, University of Minnesota described the curriculum developed by the School of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota. He said under the University's model the dental therapist could provide services only when the collaborative dentist is on-site.

The committee agreed to create two versions of dental therapists, with different training requirements: one would require more oversight, the other could operate more independently. Members adopted an amendment attaching the language of SF 641 to the language of SF 1106 and advanced SF 1106 as amended to the Committee on Finance.

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bonding bill moves, State grant program review

Yesterday at the Capitol

Senate bonding bill moves forward
The Senate Capital Investment Committee approved a bonding bill yesterday evening appropriating $362.4 million for capital improvements to state and local facilities. SF 781, authored by committee chair Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, provides $90.28 million to projects for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, $50 million for HEAPR and the remaining funds for the 2008 vetoed projects. $59 million is appropriated to the University of Minnesota for HEAPR and the Bell Museum of Natural History construction.

Langseth indicated other appropriations in the bill, which include: $4 million to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, $10 million to the Dept. of Corrections, $29 million to the Dept. of Natural Resources, $25 million to the Pollution Control Agency, $5 million to amateur sports and $3.6 million to the Dept. of Military Affairs.

The bill was approved and heads next to the Finance Committee.

Office of Higher Education presents state grant program report
The Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy division heard from the Office of Higher Education yesterday about the Minnesota state grants program. Mark Misukanis, interim director of the Office of Higher Education, said the state grant program is a need-based grant for Minnesota residents attending Minnesota institutions. He said the application process is the same as the process for federal Pell grants and that the grants are available for U.S. citizens and eligible non-citizens. He said the program distributes $145 million to 83,000 students each year.

Misukanis said the price of attendance is assigned to three parties; students, their families and the taxpayers. Currently, the recognized price of attendance includes an annual four year maximum of $9,838 for tuition and fees and $6,200 for living and miscellaneous expenses. Misukanis said there are external benchmarks for tuition and fee maximums, which include the rate of inflation, the maximum public tuition and fees charged and the general public subsidy for higher education.

Meredith Fergus, also with the Office of Higher Education, explained the calculations involved in determining assigned student responsibility, the assigned family responsibility and assigned taxpayer responsibility. Fergus said that college affordability is a growing concern for students and parents in Minnesota and nationally. In addition, she said the percent of income required of some families to pay college costs may be unreasonable. However, Fergus said the state grant program design continues to serve the state well, but the effectiveness of the program is limited by the price of attendance is set artificially low.

Committee members also considered a bill aimed at helping low-income students become better prepared for higher education. SF 1293, authored by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, requires higher education institutions to partner with high schools to promote college attendance, establishes high school-to-college developmental transition programs and revises the achieve scholarship program. Revisions in the achieve scholarship program include requiring students to complete a qualifying program in a high school or home-school program and graduate with an unweighted 2.5 grade point average and having a family adjusted gross income of less than 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Pappas said students must also enroll full-time in the fall term immediately following high school graduation and be enrolled in a degree, diploma, or certificate program. The bill also revises the maximum amount of the scholarship and sets the maximum qualifying expenses as the average total qualifying expenses at the four-year institutions of the Minnesota Colleges and Universities System.

Members laid the bill over for possible inclusion in the committee's omnibus bill.

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

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

State government bills heard, Regents selected

Yesterday at the Capitol

State government bills heard in Senate
The Senate State Government Budget Division listened to three bills at their meeting yesterday morning all authored by Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope. SF 91 requires Minnesota Management and Budget to maintain a Web site with a searchable database of state expenditures, which will be available to the public. The bill was laid on the table to be considered for possible inclusion in the division's omnibus bill.

The next bill, SF 57, adds duties to the Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, Rest said. The bill requires that the commissioner establish a process to monitor and encourage implementation of recommendations made to state agencies by the legislative auditor, Rest said. She said the bill also requires the commissioner to develop training materials and policies on internal controls and ensure that executive branch employees with financial responsibilities participate in a regular course of training on internal controls and financial management. The bill was amended and laid on the table, also for possible consideration in the omnibus bill.

And finally, SF 107 clarifies and strengthens laws prohibiting misuse of state funds and prescribes criminal penalties for misuse of state funds. Criminal offenses under the bill are classified as a gross misdemeanor and penalties include imprisonment for no more than one year or a fine of no more than $3,000, Rest said. This bill was also laid on the table for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.

University of Minnesota Regents elected in joint session
In a special joint session yesterday, House and Senate members elected four individuals to fill open seats on the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota. The elected Regents include;
• 1st Congressional District - Patricia Simmons of Rochester (currently chairwoman of the board)
• 4th Congressional District - Richard Beeson of St. Paul
• 6th Congressional District - current regent John Frobineus of St. Cloud
• 7th Congressional District, current board vice chair Clyde Allen Jr. of Moorhead

All four Regents were recommended last week by the joint House and Senate committee on regent selection. Members of the board, which serves as the university’s governing body, serve staggered six-year terms.

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

Monday, March 9, 2009

Schedules are available

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

Friday, March 6, 2009

System appears before the Senate

Yesterday at the Capitol

Senate Higher Education committee takes up bonding and the System's budget
The Senate Higher Education Budget and Policy Division devoted yesterday's hearing to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the University of Minnesota's bonding proposal and continued the oversight review for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Sally Grans, facilities and programs, with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, outlined the systems current and future capital projects. Grans said five projects were approved by the Legislature last year, but vetoed by the governor. The projects, which include renovation at North Hennepin Community College, classroom renovations on seven campuses, a health science center addition at Lake Superior College, a classroom center addition at Metropolitan State University and shop space addition and renovation at Mesabi Range Community and Technical College, are ready for bid. In addition, Grans said an additional four capital projects were partially funded in 2008 and can be bid within 120 days of funding.

Included in the System's 2009 capital request of $117 million is $50 million for asset preservation around the state. Grans said $83 million of the total request could be under contract by December, 2009, and would create about 1,500 construction and related jobs.

Committee members also approved language in two additional bills, SF 990 and SF 781, to be forwarded to the Capital Investment Committee in the form of a letter. SF 990 provides for bonding for the 2008 vetoed projects and the University of Minnesota Bell Museum. SF 781 contains the HEAPR projects for the higher education systems; $50 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and $35 million for the University of Minnesota.

Following the bonding discussion, Laura King, Vice Chancellor and CFO and Karen Kedrowski, System Director for Budget, continued the oversight review of the System's budget. Included in the discussion was non-resident tuition, the allocation model, reserves, financial statements, the tuition and fee study and the "Green Sheet," the document that accounts for all the funds the system receives from the State of Minnesota.

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

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Charter school bill advances, State testing and assessments heard, Regional economic development

Yesterday at the Capitol

Charter school bill advances
The House K-12 Education Policy and Oversight committee approved a bill yesterday offering the most significant charter school reform in Minnesota since the state became the first in the nation to authorize charter schools in 1991.

Session Daily reports that the original eight charter schools sponsored by school districts in 1991 were allowed to open as an experiment in school choice. Today, 153 charter schools sponsored by higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations and school districts educate 32,000 Minnesota students.

The bill, HF935, would strengthen and clarify ongoing responsibilities of the schools’ sponsors, improve their governance and fiscal accountability and clarify the Department of Education’s oversight role. "This bill represents a lot of compromise and months of work," said the bill’s author, Rep. Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield.

The bill was approved and heads next to the House Finance committee. Its companion, SF867, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, is scheduled to be heard tomorrow by the Senate Subcommittee on Charter Schools.

State testing and assessments overview heard in the Senate
The Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division heard an overview yesterday on state testing and assessments. Daron Korte, Senate Counsel, said the state assessment currently measures the mastery of K-12 standards, proficiency for the purposes of No Child Left Behind and the GRAD requirement for high school graduation. He said there are three types of assessments; the summative, which determines what students do and do not know, the formative, which informs teachers and students of the students' level of understanding and the adaptive, which measures achievement. The FY 2009 appropriation for statewide testing is $15 million, Korte said.

Shelby McQuay, Senate Counsel and Research and Fiscal Analysis, said one long-term GRAD assessment potential goal is to push back the administration grade so students take the assessment in tenth grade rather than eleventh grade. She also said end-of-course assessments may be implemented in the long-term.

Dirk Mattson, director of assessment and testing with the Minnesota Department of Education, provided an overview of statewide assessments. Mattson said the department's goal is to provide an MCA (Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment) that provides the highest quality assessment with the most information for educators that takes the least amount of time to administer and gives the timeliest results.

Mattson said that several states are switching to end-of-course tests in both introductory and college- and career-ready courses. Mattson said that end-of-course tests are advantageous because they are more closely aligned with state academic standards, they assess students on recent material and they measure quality and consistency of courses. However, he said, the disadvantages of end-of-course testing is that overall testing time could increase and financial investment would be needed to create new tests.

Workforce investment in regional economic development bill advances
The Senate Economic Development and Housing Budget Division heard a series of bills yesterday, including SF 643, sponsored by Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato. The bill provides eligibility for unemployment benefits to workers who receive reduced hours while taking skills training programs associated with the workforce investment in regional economic development (WIRED) program. The bill is designed to give financial relief to companies facing possible layoffs in response to the downturn in the economy because it allows the employees to work reduced hours, attend classes under the WIRED program and retain partial unemployment benefits, said Sheran. Sheran said the bill helps companies retain skilled persons that it may have otherwise had to lay off while giving employees a chance to get extra training without a significant loss in income brought about by a layoff. The committee approved the bill and re-referred it to the Finance Committee.

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

February forecast released

Yesterday at the Capitol
State leaders released the February economic forecast for the fiscal year 2010-11 biennium yesterday. With help from the federal stimulus package, the budget shortfall appears a bit better than expected - $4.6 billion as opposed to $6.4 billion. While the federal stimulus helps, it is not a permanent budget solution because it is one-time money and will only help reduce budgetary pressures through fiscal year 2011.

"The federal stimulus has helped cushion the blow of a deteriorating economy," Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson said. "Nonetheless, this is very sobering economic news."

State economist Tom Stinson warned that with revenue collections down and expenditures up, Minnesota will have a long-term deficit. "This is probably going to be the longest and deepest recession since WWII," he said. "Economic activity is not going to be just stagnant, but declining."

The state is expected to lose 120,000 jobs. However, Governor Tim Pawlenty shed some light on the fact that the federal stimulus package will save nearly 50,000 jobs. He also said the state is facing a challenging time and the belt will have to be tightened. Pawlenty highlighted the Inter Faculty Organization settlement that negotiated a wage freeze saying it was a step in the right direction, it will help state agencies plan. "This won’t eliminate the problem, but it will minimize lay-offs," Pawlenty said.

The governor also made note that there is a bonding bill forecasted within his budget, at a price of nearly $120 million. Pawlenty warned that creating a capital bill should be approached with caution, "We have to be very mindful of managing the debt load of this state."

Lawmakers understand the challenge ahead but had positive comments. "We are committed to solving our entire budget problem and positioning Minnesota for recovery and a brighter future," said Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R- Marshall, pointed out that his caucus will be working with Democrats on compromises. While Senate Minority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester, said, "We need to solve this problem for the people that elected us."

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Suicide bill advances, Budget forecast released

Yesterday at the Capitol

Yesterday on the Senate floor, members discussed SF 496, authored by Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona. The bill modifies the state’s suicide prevention plan to include the Chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the President of the University of Minnesota to the agencies required to collaborate on the state's suicide prevention plan. The bill was granted final passage. The House companion was last heard in the Health Care and Human Services Policy and Oversight Committee in February.

Today at the Capitol

Minnesota Public Radio reports this morning that Minnesota's state budget deficit is projected to shrink to $4.57 billion from the Nov. forecast of $4.8 billion over the next biennium due to the federal stimulus money. Without the federal stimulus money, the deficit was projected to grow to $6.4 billion.

Minnesota Management and Budget will hold a press conference at 9:45 this morning to release the budget forecast. At 12:00 p.m. DFL leaders will hold a press conference with their reaction to the forecast. Following, GOP leaders will hold a press conference with their reaction. All of the press conferences will be streamed live here.

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

Monday, March 2, 2009

Schedules available

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