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Policy Update

MSCSA Policy Update – February 7, 2011

First-Round Budget Bill Passes Senate

The Minnesota Senate passed its version of the legislature’s first round of budget cuts last Thursday afternoon.  The Senate bill (S.F. 60) is somewhat different from that of the House (H.F. 130) in that it requires the Commissioner of Management and Budget to reduce $125 million from current FY2011 spending, as compared to the House’s $200 million.  Further, the Senate bill explicitly states that none of these reductions can come from the State Grant Program, while the House bill contains no such language.

Both the Senate and House bills make a reduction to the MnSCU base in the amount of $95.8 million over the upcoming FY2012-13 biennium.

It is expected that the House and Senate will meet in conference committee in the coming days to iron out the differences between the two bills.  House conferees will be Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville), Rep. Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls), Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont), Rep. Jim Abeler (R-Anoka), and Rep. Greg Davids (R-Preston).  Senate conferees will be Sen. Claire Robling (R-Jordan), Sen. Mike Parry (R-Waseca), Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie), Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) and Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville).

Once both chambers agree on language, the bill will still need to go to Governor Dayton for his signature or veto.  The Governor has not yet said whether he will veto the bill, but has expressed that he is not in favor of a “piecemeal” solution.

House Committee Hears Voter I.D. Bill

The House Committee on Government Operations and Elections heard testimony on Thursday of last week on two bills that propose to implement a Voter I.D. requirement in Minnesota.  The first, H.F. 89, is authored by Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester).  Rep. Benson’s bill is fairly straightforward and seeks to impose a requirement that all voters show a form of valid photo at the polls.

The second bill, H.F. 210, is authored by former Secretary of State Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake) and contains several provisions that could negatively impact the ability of college students to vote in elections.  The purpose of the bill is to require all voters to prove both identity and residency, both when they register to vote and each time they show up to the polls, even if they are pre-registered.  However, the bill provides very strict rules about what documents can be used to prove residency or identity.

For election-day registration, students will be allowed to prove residency and identity by either showing a valid state-issued identification card listing an address of residence in the precinct where the student will vote, or by showing some other form of state-issued identification combined with a current student fee statement listing the student’s address of residence in the precinct.  This can be problematic for many students who do not list their current address on their driver’s license or state ID cards and whose student fee statement lists a different residence than where they currently live.  (For example, it lists their parents’ address or that of an old apartment.)

For pre-registered voters seeking to vote on Election Day, the only form of ID accepted will be a valid Minnesota ID listing an address of residence in the precinct where the person will vote.  Again, considering the frequency with which students move and the fact that many students simply choose to keep their parents’ address on their ID card, this could make it very difficult for college students to vote on election day.

MSCSA testified with regard to these concerns at the committee hearing.  The committee took no action on the bills, but will vote on the bills this Tuesday, February 8.

If you have questions about these issues or anything else going on at the Capitol, please contact MSCSA’s Director of Policy Alison Norman at anorman@mscsa.org or 651.297.5877.

MSCSA Policy Update – January 18, 2011

Legislative session has officially begun, and your MSCSA Policy Team is hard at work getting to know the new Higher Education Committee members and advocating for quality, affordable, and accessible higher education in Minnesota.

Both the House and Senate had their first Higher Education Committee meetings last week.  The Senate committee met on Monday, January 10 to hear an overview from the Office of Higher Education.  The presenters were OHE staff members Tricia Grimes, Barb Schlaefer, and Mark Misukanis.  OHE provided an overview of higher education in Minnesota and led an in-depth discussion of the State Grant Program.  Other topics addressed included SELF Loans, the Achieve Scholarship, and graduation and retention rates throughout Minnesota.

The House committee had its first meeting on Tuesday, January 11 to learn about the new committee rules and procedures and to hear an overview of higher education structure and financing from the House nonpartisan research staff.

The House committee met again on Thursday, January 13 for a presentation by MnSCU Chancellor James McCormick, Board of Trustees Chair Scott Thiss, Alexandria Technical and Community College President Kevin Kopischke and Minnesota State University – Moorhead President Edna Szymanski.  They provided an overview of the MnSCU system and answered lawmaker’s questions regarding both the system’s current operations and its plans for the future.

Last week also saw the first round of bill introductions for the legislative session.  Of particular note is House File 14, which is a HEAPR-only bonding bill for MnSCU and the University of Minnesota.  The chief author is Rep. Larry Howes (R-Walker).  To date, no dollar amounts have been listed in the bill, and it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Please stay tuned to these Policy Updates as the legislative session progresses.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact MSCSA’s Director of Policy, Alison Norman.

MSCSA Policy Update – December 23, 2010

While the U.S. Congress has not yet passed this year’s appropriations bill, it has agreed on a temporary compromise to keep the federal government operating.  President Obama signed a bill on Wednesday that would continue funding at current levels through March 4, 2011.  It is not anticipated that the current lame-duck Congress will pass a final appropriations package before it adjourns.  Instead, that duty will be passed to the incoming Congress that will be sworn in in January.

2010 Census data was also released this week, which showed that the State of Minnesota has had sufficient population growth to retain all eight of its Congressional districts.  Minnesota was awarded the 435th seat in the allocation process, narrowly beating out North Carolina. Minnesota will now begin the process of redistricting Congressional districts as well as state legislative districts in light of the new demographic data.

MSCSA Legislative Update – December 20, 2010

It's been a relatively quiet week in state politics, as both Governor-Elect Dayton and the legislature finalize staffing and strategy for the coming year. The legislature announced its committee schedule this week; the Senate Higher Education Committee will meet on Mondays and Wednesdays from 3:00 to 4:30 and the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee will meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30 to 2:15. Committee membership has not yet been announced, nor has it been announced who the House Committee Administrator will be. It has been announced that former MSCSA Director of Government Relations Jason Fossum will be Committee Administrator in the Senate. Read about it here.

The U.S. Congress has not yet passed this year's budget bill. Both the House and Senate budget proposals include funding of the current $5.7 billion Pell Grant shortfall. If the shortfall is not funded, students will see a decrease in the maximum Pell Grant award in the 2011-12 school year. Congress did pass the so-called "Bush Tax Cuts" bill late Thursday night. The tax bill includes a two-year extension of the American Opportunity Tax Credit. Originally part of the Stimulus Plan, the AOTC provides a $2,500 tax credit for qualified higher education expenses. $1,000 of the credit is refundable, meaning that students can get a partial refund for their higher education expenses, even if their income tax liability is less than $2,500. The tax bill also includes extension of an income tax deduction for higher education expenses and income tax deduction for student loan interest.

MSCSA Legislative Update – December 13, 2010

  • The big news in statewide politics last week was Republican Tom Emmer’s concession in the gubernatorial election. Emmer conceded to Democrat Mark Dayton on Wednesday morning, meaning that Dayton is now officially Minnesota’s Governor-elect and will take the oath of office on January 3, 2011. Governor-elect Dayton is now free to start the process of hiring staff and choosing his cabinet.
  • On the Federal front, Minnesota Congressman John Kline (R-2nd District) was named chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.  This Committee oversees both K-12 and higher education, as well as job training and workforce development programs.
  • President Obama and Congressional Republicans struck a deal to extend the “Bush Tax Cuts.”  Included in the compromise package is extension of the “American Opportunity Tax Credit,” a program designed to increase tax incentives for higher education students.  It remains unclear whether this compromise package will pass, due to opposition from many Congressional Democrats.
  • Congress also took up the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants, while allowing those children to attend college and receive federal financial aid.  Undocumented participants would have to meet certain eligibility requirements, including attending at least two years of college or engaging in two years of military service, to work toward citizenship status. The DREAM Act passed in the House but was tabled in the Senate.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised to bring the DREAM Act before the Senate for a vote in the near future.

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