April 16, 2010

State relations

Senate restores $14.7 million cut in higher education budget

The full Senate debated and passed the Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations bills April 14. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Rob Mayer (R-Dexter) introduced a floor substitute for HB2003, the higher education appropriations bill, that would restore the $14.7 million removed from the higher education operating core by the committee last week. The restoration would be funded by a proposed managed care provider tax, which will allow the state to draw down additional federal matching funds.

By passing the floor substitute with funding for higher education institutions equal to that passed by the House, the institutions’ agreement with the governor for a 5.2 percent cut in exchange for no tuition increase for undergraduate in-state students stands. The item will still go to a conference committee of House and Senate members, but only for the purpose of finalizing the funding source for the $14.7 million.

All of the UM-related items, including the Missouri Kidney Program and Telehealth, will go to conference to determine whether they will receive the higher funding levels passed by the House or the additional cuts approved by the Senate. Differing amounts appropriated for the Bright Flight and Access Missouri scholarship programs will also be among the conference items.

All appropriations bills must be finally passed by May 7.

House bill reauthorizes possible funding for Ellis Fischel

The House Budget Committee approved HB2016 April 15. A supplemental appropriations bill, HB2016 includes a reauthorization of the $31 million for Ellis Fischel Cancer Center. The committee’s approval signifies the first step, and the bill will now go to the full House for debate and approval. The Senate will also have the opportunity to review and revise the bill. The governor will have final funding authority.

Study of state health insurance consolidation added to Senate bill

The Senate perfected SB1057, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph), April 13. The bill proposes reorganization within certain state departments and the merging of certain state entities in an attempt to achieve cost savings for the state. It requires one more vote in the Senate, and will then move to the House.

Through a floor amendment, Sen. Joan Bray (D-St. Louis) added SB712, which proposes a study of the possible consolidation of state health insurance programs, including the University of Missouri System’s plan. A report to the General Assembly would be required and could ultimately result in the consolidation of the UM plan with the state’s Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan. The university expressed its opposition to this proposal during a Senate committee hearing in February and estimated that passage of the bill could result in an increase in the cost of the UM medical plan from $55 million to $62 million annually.

During a subsequent hearing in March, senators made a motion to pass the bill out of committee. The motion failed and the bill was not allowed to advance to the full Senate for debate. The university continues to oppose this legislation and will advocate for its removal from SB1057.

Bills advance to reorganize state government

Two bills that would modify the organization of state departments, including the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Missouri Department of Higher Education (MDHE), are on the Senate perfection calendar awaiting debate. SJR44, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph), would place a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2010 ballot, which, if approved by voters, would eliminate each of the current constitutionally mandated departments within the executive branch. SJR45, also sponsored by Sen. Shields, modifies the State Board of Education. Currently, the state board oversees only the state’s public elementary and secondary schools. This resolution would grant the board supervision of instruction of the entire public education system, including higher education. The bills are part of an effort by the governor and the General Assembly to achieve cost savings by reorganizing portions of state government.

House Higher Education Committee hears bill to clarify Bright Flight allocations

Representatives from the University of Missouri System and the Associated Students of the University of Missouri (ASUM) were among those who testified before the House Higher Education Committee April 14 in support of legislation that clarifies the allocation of Bright Flight scholarship awards.

SB733, sponsored by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), would clarify that the Department of Higher Education must fund the students in the top three percent of standardized test takers first, up to the statutory limit of $3,000 per year; then if funds are available, those students in the fourth or fifth percentile could receive up to $1,000. The program was to be expanded in the coming school year to include the higher awards and larger pool of eligible students as a result of legislation passed in 2007, but lawmakers did not have sufficient funding for that appropriation. This created a question of how the dollars would be prioritized, which is answered in SB733.

The bill also clarifies eligibility for students who are called into military service, and allows those who are home-schooled or receive a GED to be eligible for consideration of the awards. The committee is scheduled to vote on the bill next week.

Federal relations

MU seniors present research at Capitol Hill

University of Missouri seniors Christine O’Brien and Kyle Ervin were selected from a group of 500 students to participate in the prestigious Posters on the Hill session sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research. They were invited to present their research to members of Congress, as well as meet with the Missouri Congressional Delegation.

O’Brien, who is from St. Louis, is a biological chemistry major and has been researching melanoma under the guidance of John Viator, Ph.D., for the past two years. She has presented her research during MU’s Life Sciences Week and the Missouri Nano Frontiers Conference. She also presented her work in San Francisco this past January at the SPIE Photonics West conference. She is currently applying to graduate schools.

Ervin is a native of Festus, Mo., and a civil engineering major. His research relates to road safety and the testing of portable “rumble strips” that alert drivers as they approach road work zones by creating audible and vibratory sensations. Along with his professor, Carlos Sun, Ph.D., he is seeking to determine if the rumble strips are effective and how they should be placed on the road. The strips are temporary and easily moved, which makes them inexpensive and efficient to use, Ervin noted. Following graduation this May, he plans to work for HNTB in Kansas City designing airports.


O’Brien with Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO).

View additional photos.

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