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Higher ed committee weighs lean unsession bill

WINONA, Minn. — A few days ago, the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee held a hearing on its unsession bill for the 2014 legislative session. The bill, like Gov. Mark Dayton’s unsession idea as a whole, seeks to use this session as a way to eliminate unneeded language in state statute while making the use of public time and money more efficient.

This already was a significant part of the work we did last session in the Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee.

Last year, in order to address skyrocketing tuition at Minnesota’s public colleges and universities, we froze tuition for all undergraduate students. Not only did it stop the yearly rise in tuition, it also began to address the problem of rising student debt.

This freeze required a substantial investment from the Legislature. To ensure these new investments were used appropriately, they were specifically earmarked to freeze tuition. To further ensure that state dollars were being spent wisely, we prohibited administrative bonuses.

Nearly all of the increased funding for the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems went directly to students. We also repealed the Higher Education Advisory Council because it hadn’t met for over 18 months.

This year, the Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee will continue this work by passing our unsession bill filled with statutory fixes. The committee also will set firm restrictions to prevent the passage of any bills that would create new commissions, advisory task forces or panels.

We will not hear any bills to reopen last year’s higher education bill. We are focused on a limited agenda this session — which, aside from unsession work, will involve significant bonding requests from both the U of M and MnSCU.

Because much of our unsession work got completed last year, the Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee will be using our time this year to work ahead. We’ve already directed House staff to get to work on our 2015 Revisor’s Bill.

This bill, authored on a yearly basis by the Office of the Revisor of Statutes, cleans up outdated and unneeded language in state statute. This may be the first time that work on a Revisor’s Bill was started during a previous legislative session.

Pelowski, a DFLer, chairs the Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee in the Minnesota House.