With heavy opposition, final House bill passes

Logan Wroge

From tuition relief to sexual assault prevention strategies, higher education policies are causing gridlock at the state Capitol this session.
 
The Republican-controlled House passed its all-encompassing higher education bill Monday, which provides extra state dollars for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, and omits the University of Minnesota’s request to freeze tuition. 
 
Besides schools’ budgets, the proposal lays out new guidelines for institutions to follow while treating victims of sexual assault and plans for updating University campuses outside the Twin Cities.
 
A group of legislators, most of which are part of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, voiced heavy opposition to the proposal’s funding amounts, saying they should reconsider how to use the state’s nearly $2 billion surplus.
 
The proposal passed by a margin of 72 to 55. 
 
The Senate, which has a DFL majority, passed a separate higher education budget bill last week. Under the Senate proposal, the University would receive nearly all of its requested state funding to keep tuition flat for resident undergraduate, graduate and professional students over the next two years.
 
The House bill heard support from Republican lawmakers, who said the need to provide financial assistance to MnSCU is greater because the system has more students compared to the University. 
 
DFL legislators said the state’s nearly $2 billion surplus should be enough to keep tuition flat at all public colleges and universities, and providing funds to only the MnSCU system “pits” the University against other schools.
 
The University would receive about $3 million under the House proposal. The funds would go to improving agricultural and health science programs at the Crookston campus, as well as upgrading and maintaining buildings at the Morris campus.
 
Although some legislators criticized the House bill, Republican legislators touted its statutes that, they say, lower debt for some MnSCU students and make campuses safer by requiring sexual assault policy changes.
 
“This is an example of one of the great pieces of legislation we put together this year,” House Majority Leader Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers said Monday.
 
While both the House and Senate proposals differ largely on tuition relief, changes to college sexual assault policies are among the few efforts that legislators — regardless of political affiliation — agree on. Both bills would reinforce the rights of sexual assault victims and create anonymous online reporting tools, among other changes.
 
An amendment was included on the House bill to require campus health service providers to give “care to sexual assault victims.”
 
During the House discussion, legislators were divided on whether to specify what type of care victims would receive. DFLers wanted to amend the legislation further
to provide emergency contraception and sexually transmitted infection tests to victims. Lawmakers didn’t approve that suggestion.
 
Now that officials in both the House and Senate have passed their respective higher education bills, they’ll come together in the coming weeks to craft a finalized budget for the University before the session ends on May 18.