Bills frame New College

January 8, 2006

Martinsville Bulletin Staff Writer

Local legislators say they plan to introduce both House and Senate bills to create the New College Institute in the Martinsville and Henry County area early in the legislative session that starts Wednesday.

In the House, Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, said he is sponsoring a bi-partisan bill with Del. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham.

"This bill is the joint effort or will be co-patroned by myself and Del. Robert Hurt on the House side," he said. Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, also said he would help sponsor the bill.

Armstrong said the legislation is necessary to create the new college and goes hand in hand with $5.1 million set aside in Gov. Mark Warner's proposed budget for the college.

"I suppose in some respects this creates the pan and the budget provides the water to boil in the pan," he said.

He said the legislation is "just a very basic framework" that sets out the purpose of the New College Institute. It also establishes a 12-15 member board of directors for it, to be appointed by the governor, and sets the makeup of the board.

The college has six goals, according to the bill, including seeking to diversify the region's economy, providing a site for the development of the technology, providing a trained work force necessary for new economic enterprises to flourish and expanding educational opportunities in the area.

The bill says that until July 1, 2012, the college's curriculum will focus on students who have completed a community college associate degree or the first and second years of a baccalaureate degree, with exceptions as appropriate. The college shall enroll students by the fall of 2007 or as soon as practical, according to the bill.

The bill also gives the college board the power to lease, sell or convey real estate, appoint an executive director, set tuition and fees, convey degrees until the college is officially recognized as a baccalaureate college, enter into agreements with other institutions of higher education to provide continuing education, instructional programs and degree programs at the college and apply for, accept and spend gifts, grants or donations from private or public sources.

"This bill was put together with the input from the New College Commission and the input of Gov. Jerry Baliles as well as the input of various members of the legislative delegation. This bill was not created in a vacuum," Armstrong said. Baliles, a Patrick County native, is a commission senior adviser and former governor.

The bill does not say where in Martinsville or Henry County the college will be located or deal with other specific details, he said.

"People say, 'well what will it look like?' A lot of those details will be developed by the college itself over the next several months," he said.

Armstrong said he is optimistic but it is too early to predict the bill's chances of passing.

"I've not done a nose count. However, I'm hopeful that there will be support for this. There have been discussions with several senior members of the legislature and no opposition has been expressed," he said.

"But, let me caution, oftentimes people think, 'Well this is a good thing for our region,' that everyone in the state will look at it as a good thing. And that does not always happen. Legislators from other regions of the state are not so enamored with this college, just as they have not been so enamored with the Museum of Natural History," Armstrong said.

He said local residents can do their part by showing their support for the college.

"I think they can write letters. I would suggest that they write letters to the governor. They can write letters to the local delegation. They don't need to convince us but I think we certainly can compile those letters and make them available to people that want to know about public support.

"I think it would be also helpful to contact members of the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, most notably the chairmen of those two committees," Armstrong said.

The House Appropriations Committee chairman is Del. Vincent Callahan Jr., R-McLean. The Senate Finance Committee chairman is Sen. John Chichester, R-Fredericksburg.

Hurt said he looks forward to working to help create the college and "maintain and secure adequate funding for it as a startup."

"We have to work in our respective caucuses to build the consensus," he said, to get enough votes for the bill to pass. He said a hopeful sign from his experience is that other legislators comment communities in Southside for trying to "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps."

"We are not asking for a handout," he said, but instead assistance in trying to help the area. The new college promises economic development enhancements such as attracting businesses that want to locate in a place with a good quality of life and also an improved work force, he said.

Sen. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Ridgeway, said he also is introducing a bill to provide a framework for the new college.

He said his bill was drafted in the form requested by The Harvest Foundation and the New College Commission. It includes the same language, the same six goals and same board structure as the House bill.

"I'm going to do everything I can to see that it passes," he said.

Reynolds said he has told members of local groups, such as the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce, they they can best do their part by coming to Richmond, meeting with legislators and lobbying them in person to pass the legislation.

The Harvest Foundation has issued a $50 million challenge grant for the state to establish the institute.


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