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.

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