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Utah Legislative Session, Week 6


Monday, Mar. 08, 2010


Utah State Capitol Building
Although week five brought some potentially discouraging economic news, the sixth week of the 2010 Utah State Legislative session had some improvement over the numbers approved by the House GOP caucus. Last week, the proposed numbers included the full 8 percent cut left over from the stimulus backfill in FY2010 for higher education with an additional 5 percent ongoing cut for FY2011 with a $20 million, one-time backfill (between 2-3 percent). Essentially, higher education faced an effective cut of 11 percent (8 percent ARRA backfill + 5 percent additional cut + $20 million backfill). 
 
This past week, however, House and Senate leaders presented different budget levels for higher education. While these numbers are not yet final, the Executive Appropriations Committee eliminated the an additional proposed 5 percent cut over the base budget (for a total 22 percent), and they voted to restore some of the 17 percent base budget cut approved last session. Last week’s numbers proposed an approximate 3 percent ongoing backfill which would establish a new higher education base budget at 14 percent lower that FY2009 (as opposed to the 17 percent reduction approved last year). 
 
Effectively, higher education is looking at taking a 5 percent cut on top of last year’s 9 percent. Again, this is a 3 percent improvement over the ongoing base budget for higher education at the start of this session and an 8 percent improvement over what was discussed last week. This does not mean that this is not a significant reduction and that there won’t be an effect on programs at USU. However, administrators, deans, and department heads have been planning for a 17 percent reduction for this fiscal year, and this may provide an opportunity to soften the expected blow and invest in growth areas for the University. It is important to emphasize that these numbers are not final, but they are all-but-final as they will most likely be ratified by both the full House and Senate this coming week.
 
In other legislative news, S.B.69 (S1), the USU/CEU affiliation bill, passed the both the Senate and the House by a near unanimous vote (25-0 in the Senate and 64-1 in the House). It is expected that the governor will sign the bill into law which will take effect on July 1, 2010. The House and Senate also approved “legislative intent” language accompanying this bill. This language, while not legally binding, explains the intent of the legislature that USU and CEU follow the memorandum of understanding approved by their respective boards of trustees and by the Board of Regents.
 
There have been no further official actions taken by the Capital Facilities Appropriations Subcommittee regarding building bonds, but leadership is still working hard at reaching a consensus on new buildings. Funding for new buildings (including a release of the funds approved in 2008 for the USU College of Agriculture building) will depend on the Legislature’s willingness to either bond or to use additional sources of one-time money such as delaying transportation projects or implementing one or more of the recommendations of the governor to generate one-time funding. While there is strong support among some legislative leaders for specific projects, others agree with Gov. Herbert’s budget which did not include funding for any projects this year.
 
The Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) works with the legislative representatives to track legislative bills on a semi-weekly basis. Below is a list of some of the legislation that USHE is tracking along with USU:
 
  • HB 114(S1), Disclosure of Donations, by Rep. Carl Wimmer, would require higher education institutions to annually disclose to the Board of Regents donations or gifts of $50,000 or more from foreign persons. It passed a final Senate vote on Monday (22-6) and now goes to the governor for his signature.
  • HB 194, Grants for Math Teacher Training, by Rep. Brad Last, provides the State Office of Education $250,000 to use for grants to provide math teaching training to individuals who are not currently teachers but who have already earned a bachelor’s degree. Still being held in House Rules Committee, likely due to fiscal impact.
  • HB 370(S1), Capital Project Amendments, by Rep. Stephen Clark, was developed in collaboration with higher education and the Division of Facilities Construction Management and makes some changes regarding the level of projects that may be handled by institutions without DFCM management, among other changes. The bill passed the House on Friday, 71-0, and now goes to the Senate for its consideration.
  • HB 425(S1), Budgetary Procedures—Fee Amendments, by Rep. Ron Bigelow, as originally written require legislative approval of virtually all fees charged by higher education institutions now approved by the Board of Regents or Boards of Trustees. Rep. Bigelow amended the bill in committee on Monday (by adopting a substitute) which removed the section relating to higher education. The bill was approved by the House on Friday 72-0, and now goes to the Senate.
  • HB 410, Hazing Policies for Higher Education Institutions, by Rep. Carol Moss, has been introduced by short-title only. Text has not yet been added, meaning it is unlikely this bill will move forward this year.
  • HB 428**, Nonresident Tuition Amendments, by Rep. Richard Greenwood, is similar to bills introduced in previous years to repeal the law that allows Utah high school graduates who cannot prove legal immigration status to be eligible for resident tuition. The bill is currently in the Rules Committee and it may not be considered this year.
  • HB 460, Board of Regents Amendments, by Rep. Brad Dee, would require the Board to approve an Electronics Engineering degree at Weber State University. In negotiations with the sponsor he agreed to replace this bill with a concurrent resolution (HCR 18, Workforce Needs) urging the Board to study ways to aid economic development in Weber and Davis Counties as well as to consider this degree proposal consistent with current law and policy. The concurrent resolution may be considered by the House as early as Monday.
  • HJR 24, Resolution on Equal Treatment by Government, by Rep. Curtis Oda, is a proposed constitutional amendment promoted by national activist Ward Connerly who has advanced similar measures in other states to prevent certain types of Affirmative Action. The House removed most bills, including this one, from its calendar and returned to the Rules Committee for prioritization (“sifting”). It may die there or could be revived and presented to the full House if the sponsor believes he has sufficient votes (two-thirds) for it to pass. 
  • SB 35*, Capital Facilities Bonds Amendments, by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, allows the USU Agriculture Science Classroom Building to move forward as separate buildings — one funded by the federal government and the other by the state.  Being held in Senate Rules Committee and may be included in another bill, although this is looking less likely.
  • SB 42, 43(S1) & 94(S2) Retirement Amendments, by Sen. Dan Liljenquist, is a package of bills to make some dramatic changes to the State Retirement System, effecting future retirees. While the goals are sustainability, the impacts may be far-reaching. Approximately one-third of higher education employees participate in this system. SBs 43 & 94 have passed both houses (and now go to governor). SB 42 is being held in the Senate Rules Committee.
  • SB52(S1), State Board of Regents Amendments, by Sen. Dennis Stowell, requires changes in the composition of the Board of Regents to provide greater rural representation by having two Regents from counties that are not Metropolitan Statistic Areas. The House began debate on this bill, but did not yet vote on it — it likely will early this coming week. 
  • SB 55, Authorization of Charter Schools by Higher Education Institutions, by Sen. Stuart Adams, would allow college and university boards of trustees, at their option, to authorize charter public schools. The House amended it to include UCAT campuses. It has passed both houses and now goes to governor for signature.
  • SB 95(S1)*, UESP Amendments, by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, makes technical and housekeeping amendments to statutes governing UESP. It passed both houses unanimously and has been signed into law by the governor.
  • SB 132*, Higher Education Scholarship Amendments, by Sen. John Valentine, tightens eligibility for the New Century Scholarship program and makes technical changes to it and to the Regents’ Scholarship. The bill is awaiting consideration by the House.
  • SB 171, Higher Education Retirement Amendments, by Sen. Dan Liljenquist, would allow a window for current higher education employees to transfer to the Utah Retirement System. Is on the Senate’s 2nd Reading Calendar.
 * USHE has taken an official position in support; ** USHE has taken an official position in opposition.
 
To learn more about the Legislature and specific bills, visit its Web site. Information is also posted on the governor’s Web site. Lists of state senators and representatives, but district, can be found online. You may also contact Michael Kennedy, vice president for federal and state relations, with any questions at michael.kennedy@usu.edu
 
Legislative updates are also available from the USHE site.
 
Writer/Contact: Michael J. Kennedy, vice president for Federal, State Relations, michael.kennedy@usu.edu


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