State legislators face protesters, nearly 100 bills

by Coralie Carlson

The roar of welfare rights demonstrators greeted state legislators as they emerged from the year’s opening session, adding to the noise and action at the Capitol on Tuesday.
From the public protest to the nearly 100 bills introduced in the senate just moments before, ceremonial procedures filled the first day of the legislative session. Meanwhile, University officials quietly geared up for policy action in the near future.
As senators gathered for the first session, they chatted with excitement and didn’t stop until the meeting adjourned 20 minutes later.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, compared the lawmakers to excited school children as he repeatedly asked them to quiet down.
Both House and Senate meetings lasted less than an hour. Until committees send legislation to the floor for votes, sessions will be equally brief.
But once legislators roll up their sleeves, they will have to work fast. This session will be shorter than usual and there are more bills to consider as groups battle for budget surplus money.
“In short sessions the pace is always hectic,” said Donna Peterson, the University’s director of Institutional Relations.
University constituents will witness progress on higher education bills beginning in the next few days. For instance, the House Higher Education Finance Division committee will report today on higher education enrollment trends.
Legislators met with leaders of several higher education student associations at an informal breakfast Tuesday morning.
Representatives from the University, community colleges, state colleges and technical schools discussed their policy initiatives with officials who stopped by — all in preparation for the upcoming committee meetings.
“It’s sort of a kick off at the Capitol,” said Cheryl Jorgensen, president of the Student Legislative Coalition.
Already, committee schedules for this week are full of high-profile issues affecting the University.
Last session, legislators introduced eight bills about revising the Board of Regents selection process. The Joint House/Senate Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Regent Election Process has met in the interim and will conclude discussion Thursday on the proposals.
On Friday, the Higher Education Finance Division will dissect Gov. Arne Carlson’s proposed capital budget request. Included in Carlson’s plan is his recommendation on how much money the University should receive for building renovation and construction. School officials requested $249 million, which Carlson endorsed in full.