Legislative session busy for U

Some bills affecting the University have passed, others are done.

Friday marked the first of many deadlines at the Legislature, meaning many committees needed to act favorably on bills in either the House or the Senate, depending on where they were introduced. For the University of Minnesota, this session has been a fairly busy one. Debates over liquor sales at TCF Bank Stadium and ordinance-making power for the Board of Regents, as well as funding for University projects, served as backdrops to the ongoing debate over the stateâÄôs and the schoolâÄôs budget problems.

HEAPR/Bell Museum

Over spring break, the Senate passed its version of the omnibus bonding bill , which included $59 million in funding for University projects, $24 million of which would go to build a new Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus. The money had been approved last session but vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty . The project would allow the UniversityâÄôs Bell Museum to move from its current location to a new site on the St. Paul campus. âÄúThey talk about Web 2.0; we want a museum 2.0,âÄù Bell Museum Executive Director Susan Weller said. The total cost for the project is $39.5 million, and Weller said some of the funding the University has raised from private sources is contingent on getting the bill passed this session. The rest of the money passed in the Senate would go toward the UniversityâÄôs Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement funds, which are for general repair projects across the University system. The House will consider approving funding for the projects on Monday and Tuesday of this week.

Ordinance-making power

A bill that would give the Board of Regents the power to pass ordinances carrying misdemeanor penalties was tabled in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, and University officials are wary that the bill will have no further action taken on it this session. The bill was designed to let the regents adopt uniform ordinances across University property in preparation for game day activities at TCF Bank Stadium. The plan had raised ire from the city of Minneapolis and the League of Minnesota Cities . Though there was support for the bill, lawmakers took turns at TuesdayâÄôs meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee addressing their concerns with the bill, including that the bill did not address how to cover the costs of such things as public defenders or incarceration for those accused of breaking the ordinances. âÄúIt sounds like everyone wants to help out the University here but has a lot of problems with some of the language in this bill,âÄù Sen. Mary Olson , DFL-Bemidji, said. University Police Chief Greg Hestness said without the bill, it would complicate how the University enforces ordinances on game day. Officers will need to keep track of three separate ordinance areas âÄî Minneapolis, Falcon Heights and the State Fair grounds âÄî as those are where stadium parking will be located.

Alcohol at TCF Bank Stadium

A provision to mandate the University to sell alcohol to everyone at TCF Bank Stadium, not just those in premium seating areas as is currently planned, is included in an omnibus liquor bill in the Senate. Sen. David Tomassoni , DFL-Chisholm, told the Senate Higher Education Committee on Thursday that the new rules would be fairer than the current plan. âÄúIt seems to me reasonable that if youâÄôre going to let somebody drink in the stadium, that everybody should be able to drink in the stadium,âÄù he said. University Athletics Director Joel Maturi countered, saying selling alcohol to students would go against the UniversityâÄôs goals. âÄúIâÄôm respectful of the Minnesota way of trying to be equitable and fair and similar,âÄù Maturi said, âÄúbut it would be tremendously inconsistent with the mission of the institution, the mission of our intercollegiate athletics program and the mission of almost every athletics program that IâÄôm aware of in the nation.âÄù University Chief of Staff Kathy Brown said that if the provision passes, the University might not sell alcohol at the stadium at all, choosing to perhaps give it away for free to those in premium seating areas like the University has done in Williams and Mariucci arenas. Sen. Geoff Michel , R-Edina, said selling alcohol isnâÄôt going to be the most important factor come opening day. âÄúI think this is going to be one of the best days of 2009, when they open up that stadium,âÄù Michel said Thursday. âÄúAnd they donâÄôt need alcohol to make it a great day.âÄù

Budgets

There are currently bills going through the Legislature that would determine areas of funding for the University over the next biennium. One bill would allocate more than $52 million each of the next two years to the UniversityâÄôs Extension service, which would be equal to what the program gets this biennium. âÄúWeâÄôre very pleased that weâÄôre holding our own,âÄù Extension Dean Bev Durgan said. Another bill, giving $8 million annually to the Mayo Foundation Partnership , has yet to see action, but the committee itâÄôs assigned to was not affected by FridayâÄôs deadline . Meanwhile, Pawlenty and DFL leadership in the House and Senate continue to grapple with the stateâÄôs $4.6 billion budget deficit. Pawlenty has proposed using federal stimulus funds to make up for cuts to the UniversityâÄôs budget this biennium, and cutting more than $300 million from the stateâÄôs current $3.1 billion higher education budget during the 2012-13 biennium. Senate DFLers have proposed 7 percent across-the-board spending cuts and new tax revenues each of the next two biennia, while House leaders also called for cuts and new taxes, but left higher education funding levels untouched each of the upcoming biennia. Pawlenty and the Legislature are mandated by law to balance the budget by the end of the session in May. âÄîDevin Henry is a senior staff reporter