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Legislative Update: Week Five

Monday, Feb. 27, 2012

This is the report for week five from the 2012 Utah legislative session from the perspective of the Utah System of Higher Education. The summary has been prepared by Dave Buhler, USHE associate commissioner for public affairs.

Meeting with Gov. Herbert.  On Wednesday [Feb. 22] all eight Presidents, Commissioner Sederburg and Associate Commissioner Buhler met with Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, the governor’s Chief of Staff Derek Miller and Education Director Christine Kearl to discuss budget priorities and concerns. It was a good meeting and the governor reiterated his support for higher education as well as the budget realities facing the state even with the first significant revenue growth in four years.

2012-13 Budget. New revenue estimates essentially confirmed those of last December, showing a slight uptick of $14 million total. There was some disappointment that it did not grow more, but another way to look at it is that the estimated revenue growth of December has continued to materialize.

On Tuesday [Feb. 21] the Executive Appropriations Committee, comprised of joint bipartisan legislative leadership, received reports from the co-chairs of the Higher Education and Infrastructure and General Government appropriations subcommittees. No action was taken. Legislative leadership is just beginning the sometimes difficult process of considering all of the requests and deciding which will be included in the final budget for 2012-13. Executive Appropriations may begin making decisions next week as they are scheduled to meet on Tuesday [Feb. 28] and Thursday [March 1] evenings.

Higher Education advocates continued to make the case in private meetings with key legislators about the top funding priorities of compensation, and Mission Based Funding/Equity, and for capital facilities. One issue yet to be resolved is if funding is provided for a 1 percent compensation increase (costing $6.7 million in tax funds) whether the Legislature would also provide the additional estimated $9 million needed to cover increases in employee benefits.

Key Legislation of Interest to USHE

  • HB 49S1, Firearms Revisions by Rep. Paul Ray modifies laws related to the open carry of firearms. During debate on the floor the sponsor indicated his understanding and intent that this would not affect current laws governing guns on higher education campuses. The House passed the bill on Tuesday (50-21) [Feb. 21] and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee this week.
  • HB 123 S1, Education Savings Account by Rep. John Dougall, was substituted on Friday [Feb. 24], and now provides for a pilot program for up to 2,500 students. For these students, the per-pupil high school funding set at $6.400 for the first year (similar to a voucher) would be provided to the student to spend at any public high school or charter high school with any unexpended balance remaining in a savings account for college. The House Education Committee approved the substitute bill on Friday by a vote of 8-6. It now goes to the full House.
  • HB 124, In-state Tuition for Veterans by Rep. Curt Oda, would make it somewhat easier for recently discharged members of the military to obtain Utah residency for tuition purposes. It was approved by the House on Friday [Feb. 24] by a vote of 69-0 and now goes to the Senate.
  • HB 284, Higher Education Governance** by Rep. John Dougall would have been the most sweeping change in higher education governance since 1969, changing the Board of Regents to a coordinating board. Before being placed on the agenda of the House Education Committee, the sponsor made a motion on the House floor on Thursday [Feb. 23] to return the bill to the House Rules Committee, where on Friday [Feb. 24] it was substituted with an entirely different bill (reported below). 
  • HB 284S1, Regents’ Scholarship Program Amendments by Rep. John Dougall, would significantly broaden participation in the program by allowing students to take one concurrent enrollment course for each of the five required subject areas (rather than up to four high school courses depending on the subject matter). This will also significantly increase the cost of the program or, if not funded, reduce the level of awards to scholarship recipients. In an unusual move the House Rules Committee sent the bill to be heard by the House Public Utilities Committee. Their last two meetings are on Tuesday and Thursday.
  • HB 299S1, Tax Revisions by Rep. John Dougall was substituted on Friday. The previous bill cut state taxes by approximately $600 million. The substitute bill provides a tax credit for tuition at a higher education institution up to $1,000. A fiscal note has not yet been prepared, which may well determine whether or not the bill will receive serious consideration this legislative session.  It passed the Revenue and Taxation Committee on Friday (9-4) [Feb. 24].
  • SB 10, College and Career Readiness Amendments* by Sen. Margaret Dayton modifies testing of public and charter school students from UPASS to the ACT. It previously passed the Senate, 28-0, and the House Education Committee 12-0. It is being held in the House Rules Committee due to fiscal impact (until/unless the $2 million fiscal note is funded).
  • SB 44 S1, GI Bill Tuition Gap Coverage by Sen. Luz Robles would have established a new grant program to be administered by the Board of Regents for students who have received Post 9-11 GI Bill benefits but had not completed their bachelor’s degree. It was defeated in the Senate on Friday [Feb. 24] by a vote of 11-14.
  • SB 114, Contesting Public Procurements by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser amends procedures for contesting procurement by state agencies and USHE. It was approved by the Senate on Thursday (25-0) [Feb. 23] and now goes to the House for its consideration.
  • SB 153S1, Procurement Amendments by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser makes numerous changes to the state procurement code and applies them to higher education. USHE purchasing officers and the Commissioner’s Office have been very involved in numerous meetings to resolve potential negative consequences. The substitute bill resolves all major concerns. It was approved by the Senate Government Operations Committee on Tuesday (5-0) [Feb. 21] and is on the Senate 2nd Reading Calendar. 
  • SJR 22, Joint Resolution on State Spending Limitations** by Sen. Stuart Reid, would amend the Utah Constitution to severely restrict new state spending, requiring a 60 percent majority vote in both houses to appropriate more money than the current year (adjusted for inflation/deflation and population growth). This could seriously hamper Higher Education, Public Education and other state programs. It received a vote on the Senate Second Reading on Thursday (16-13) [Feb. 23], which advanced it to the 3rd Reading Calendar but is insufficient for a Constitutional amendment (20 votes required). On Friday [Feb. 24] the sponsor indicated he was not planning to bring the bill to a final vote this year

*USHE has taken an official position in support; **USHE has taken an official position in opposition.

Please contact Neil Abercrombie, USU director of Government Relations, with questions specific to USU’s 2012 legislative priorities or developments during the session,

Also, for more frequent updates follow USU’s Government Relations on Twitter.

More information on legislation and committee agendas — or to view or listen to floor debates — is available online.

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