May 17, 2010

State relations

Passage of Access scholarship bill highlights last week of session

Legislation concerning scholarships, governance, spinal cord research and the importance of international education were among the highlights of higher education-related topics during the final week of the 2010 legislative session.

A bill to equalize Access Missouri scholarship awards for all students at four-year institutions has been sent to the governor. The House and Senate took up and passed a conference committee report for SB733, sponsored by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), making the changes effective beginning in 2014. The bill, which was championed by the University of Missouri System, also makes clarifications to the state’s Bright Flight Scholarship Program.

The current Access needs-based scholarship provides awards up to $4,600 to students at private institutions and $2,150 to students at public institutions. Students at community colleges are limited to $1,000. The new legislation will leave those levels in place until the fall of 2014, when students at all four-year institutions will receive up to $2,850, and those at community colleges will receive up to $1,300.

The bill also clarifies that Bright Flight merit-based awards of up to $3,000 will be allocated to students who score in the top three percent of standardized test takers, and up to $1,000 will be awarded to those in the fourth or fifth percentile, if funds are available. The university system advocated for this clarification to avoid a situation in which smaller awards could be spread out among the top five percent.

SB733 also provides language to allow certain records and documents to remain closed during negotiations with potential private sector partners to commercialize research.

The House adopted SCR31, also sponsored by Sen. Pearce, May 14. The resolution emphasizes the importance of international education and study abroad programs at institutions of higher education. MU students were among those who testified in support of the bill.

Lawmakers also approved SB987, sponsored by Sen. Bill Stouffer (R-Napton) and handled in the House by Rep. Steve Hobbs (R-Mexico), during the final week of the session. The bill will increase the amount of spinal cord injury research awards from the current level of $50,000 to $250,000 per award.

SJR44 and SJR45, both sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph), would have placed resolutions on the statewide ballot to eliminate the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Higher Education and create a single Department of Education. However, uncertainty over the makeup and powers of a newly created board caused the House Higher Education Committee to determine that the issue needed more study. Chairman Gayle Kingery (R-Poplar Bluff) proposed the Joint Committee on Education study the issue and make recommendations for the 2011 legislative session.

Language was added to SB1007, sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey (R-St. Peters), to authorize the transfer of the supervision of tuberculosis patients from the Missouri Rehabilitation Center to the Department of Health and Senior Services. The groups agreed earlier in the year to transfer this supervision back to the department.

Lawmakers also passed a bill related to autism in the final days of the session. HB1311, sponsored by Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst (R-Manchester), requires insurance companies to offer coverage to individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.

Higher education budget agreement headlines legislative session issues

Legislators and higher education leaders entered the 2010 legislative session with the knowledge that the state’s budget woes would dominate other discussions and issues.

Gov. Nixon met with higher education leaders prior to the beginning of the session to hammer out an agreement to cut public higher education institutions’ operating core budgets by 5.2 percent in exchange for holding tuition flat for in-state, undergraduate students. As state resources continued to decline, lawmakers were pressured to consider deeper cuts to higher education in an attempt to pass a balanced budget; however, the final budget holds the operating cores for all public institutions to a reduction of 5.2 percent.

Higher education leaders also saw progress with the concept of providing matching funds for initiatives in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. A bill filed by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg) was heard before the Senate Education Committee and later approved by the panel. University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee testified in support of the measure.

Legislation that did not pass

Budget issues – The inclusion of $2 million for a joint pharmacy program between UMKC and Missouri State University was ultimately unsuccessful. The amount was removed in conference due to concern about the need for ongoing funding. In addition, HB2016, the re-appropriations bill, included $31 million in funding for Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. While the appropriation authorized last year in HB22 is still in effect, the inclusion in HB2016 would have allowed the use of other federal funds for the project. The Senate removed the provision.

BondingHJR77, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly (D-Columbia), was not granted a hearing in either chamber. The ongoing budget crisis dampened any legislative appetite for accepting additional debt. Along the same lines, legislation related to maintenance and repair or capital improvements was not approved.

Tax credit reform – The session brought numerous proposals for tax credit reform, ranging from subjecting all tax credits to the appropriations process to repealing certain credits that have proven unsuccessful. While the governor and certain legislative leaders continued to push for reform, the session ended without any changes. Also part of such reforms was SB895, sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey (R-St. Peters), which would have created the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act to encourage the establishment of science and technology businesses in the state. The bill was a possible vehicle for reform, but never advanced beyond the Senate.

Reorganization of state health care – Both SB712, sponsored by Sen. Joan Bray (D-St. Louis), and SB715, sponsored by Sen. Jason Crowell (R-Cape Girardeau), received hearings in the Senate. Language from SB712, which required a study of the reorganization of the health care system for state and other employees, including University of Missouri employees, was added to other legislation that advanced. The language was included in the Senate version of HB1868, sponsored by Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst (R-Manchester), however, the university and others advocated for its removal, and the final version did not contain the language. The language also was included in SB1057, a reorganization bill sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph), but the bill did not advance to the House.

Student curatorHB1999, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Pratt (R-Blue Springs), and HB1773, sponsored by Rep. Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur), would have replaced or allowed the option of replacing one current University of Missouri curator with a student curator. Neither bill made it out of the House. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to add the provision to other bills.

Conceal and carry – The controversial initiative to allow concealed weapons on college campuses did not resurface in 2010. Legislation to allow guns on campus was approved by the House in 2009, but did not return in any legislation considered by lawmakers this year.

ASUM students with Kingery

The Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM) presented a legislator of the year award to Rep. Gayle Kingery (R-Poplar Bluff) on the last day of the legislative session. (From left) MU student Anna Osterlind, Rep. Gayle Kingery, MU student Joe Karl, Missouri S&T student Andrew Meyer and MU student Lauren Edens.

Deaton and Wilson

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton (left) congratulates Rep. Kevin Wilson (R-Neosho) for his eight years of service in the Missouri House of Representatives. Wilson, an alumnus of MU, has collected Mizzou memorabilia in his Capitol office. He is one of more than 50 members of the Missouri House who are not eligible to run again due to term limits.

May 7, 2010

State relations

Access scholarship bill poised to pass in final week of session

Legislation that would equalize state needs-based scholarship awards for students attending public and private institutions is poised to pass in the final week of the legislative session.  SB733, sponsored by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), was approved by both the House and the Senate and has been sent to a joint conference committee to resolve the differences and finalize the bill.

The bill began in the Senate as a plan to clarify award allocations for the state’s merit-based Bright Flight scholarships. The University of Missouri System sought changes to ensure that when full funding for the scholarship is not available, the Department of Higher Education would award up to $3,000 to students in the top three percent of standardized test takers. Those in the fourth and fifth percentiles of test takers then could receive up to $1,000 in awards, should additional funds be available. It also clarified eligibility for those called into military service and the time frame to be used in determining the top percentage of test takers.

In the House, SB733 was amended to incorporate the Access Missouri Scholarship agreement that emerged from meetings between public and private school leaders. Currently, eligible students at private institutions may receive up to $4,600 per year, while students at public four-year institutions are limited to annual awards of $2,150, and students at public two-year institutions are limited to $1,000. Under SB733, beginning in the fall of 2014, eligible students at both public and private four-year institutions would receive up to $2,850, and students at two-year institutions would receive up to $1,300.

The latest version of the bill also eliminates the program’s sunset provision and includes a plan to lower the required grade point average for scholarship renewals from 2.5 to 2.0 for the first 60 credit hours. The House version also incorporates language for public higher education institutions that helps foster joint partnerships to commercialize research.

A conference committee composed of five senators and five representatives has been named to approve a compromise version. Final passage is required by 6 p.m., Fri., May 14.

In related news, another House bill containing the language about the required GPA for renewal and the Access Missouri Scholarship agreement was taken up and passed by the Senate Education Committee May 5. HB1473, sponsored by Rep. Mike Thomson (R-Maryville), includes the same provisions as SB733, with the exception of the Bright Flight language.

House Higher Education Committee hears resolutions related to higher education governance

Plans to place measures on the statewide ballot to eliminate the Department of Higher Education and combine the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and the state Board of Education were heard in the House Higher Education Committee meeting this week. The Senate passed SJR44 and SJR45, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph). The bills now must be approved in the same format by the House before they can be placed on the ballot.

Committee members had many questions about the concept and heard testimony in support from Sen. Shields, as well as from the Department of Higher Education and Mike Nietzel, special advisor to the governor for higher education issues. Several organizations also testified in opposition to the plan and for informational purposes only.

The committee did not vote, but plans to reconvene May 11 to consider possible changes to the bills. The University of Missouri System did not testify on the bills; however, UM System President Gary Forsee did send a letter to committee members.

Spinal Cord Injury bill nearing approval

The House passed SB987, sponsored by Sen. Bill Stouffer (R-Napton) and carried in the House by Rep. Steve Hobbs (R-Mexico), with a few amendments. The bill would increase the award amount for spinal cord injury research from $50,000, which is often not enough to support a research project, to $250,000. The House also added a provision that would apply certain life sciences research restrictions to spinal cord injury research. In addition, an emergency clause was adopted for economic development provisions that were added to the bill by a House committee.

Sen. Stouffer requested that the House recede from its version of the bill and pass the Senate version, which only increased the award amount. If the House does not recede, the final version will be decided by a conference committee of House and Senate members. All bills must be agreed to and passed by 6 p.m., Fri., May 14.