Legislative Update – April 11, 2018

The Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy committee heard two bills yesterday. The first bill, SF3787, appropriates funding for a teacher licensing preparation program for licensure as a teacher of the blind or visually impaired at the University of Minnesota. The committee amended the bill to change the appropriation of $250,000 to go to the Office of Higher Education instead of the University of Minnesota for grants to institutions interested in exploring, developing, and establishing a teacher preparation program leading to licensure as a teacher of the blind or visually impaired.

Bill author, Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, said a program to educate teachers of visually impaired students currently does not exist in Minnesota, and he asked committee members to think about this important issue as the committee moves forward with its work. The bill was laid on the table for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.

The other bill heard by committee members was SF3058, which establishes a student loan counseling grant. This bill was also laid on the table for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill. SF3058, introduced by Sen. Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, establishes a permanent program in statute to provide a grant to an organization offering student loan debt counseling. The Office of Higher Education would administer the grant program.

In 2015 the Legislature appropriated $150,000 to the Office of Higher Education for a temporary student loan debt counseling pilot program, which was awarded to Lutheran Social Services. Through this pilot program, 1,673 borrowers received counseling, and of those, 99.5% were able to remain current on their loan, and 97.6% developed a long-term budget plan. Tricia Grimes, a volunteer with Lutheran Social Services told committee members that there are 56 different options for students to repay loans. She explained that 14,000 students a year default on loans, which could be prevented with other options made available to them.

Over in the House, the Higher Education and Career Readiness Policy and Finance Committee heard from Office of Higher Education Commissioner Larry Pogemiller yesterday regarding Governor Mark Dayton’s higher education supplemental budget request. As a reminder, Dayton is recommending $10 million one-time funds for Minnesota State to fund campus support, and $8.5 million ongoing support for Next Gen. Dayton is also recommending $10 million one-time funds to the University of Minnesota to hold down tuition.

While the state’s $46 billion budget for 2018-2019 was largely set last year, this year lawmakers have the opportunity to make adjustments due to a projected $329 million budget surplus announced in the February budget forecast. While House and Senate Republicans have not yet released their supplemental budget targets, tax conformity and school safety legislation are expected to be major components of any spending bill this year.

Also yesterday, the Senate Capital Investment Committee heard from Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans and State Budget Director Margaret Kelly regarding Governor Dayton’s bonding recommendation. Dayton released his $1.5 billion bonding proposal in January focused on campus building upgrades for Minnesota State and the University of Minnesota, transportation and infrastructure, water quality, and affordable housing. Governor Dayton is recommending $274.5 million in bonding for Minnesota State. This includes the Board of Trustee’s entire request, plus an additional $50 million in asset preservation to keep students, faculty and staff warm, safe and dry.

A bonding bill is the only type of legislation to require a higher threshold than a simple majority to pass, requiring a three-fifths vote of support in both the House and Senate. Therefore, votes from the minority caucus in each chamber will be needed for the bill to pass. The bill needs 81 votes in the House, where Republicans currently hold 77 of 134 seats and 41 votes in the Senate, where Republicans currently hold 34 of 67 seats

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