Altered college bill advances

February 10, 2006

Bulletin Staff Writer

The Senate Finance Committee on Thursday referred to the Senate floor the bill that would create the New College Institute, but not without making changes to the legislation.

The most significant amendment eliminated language discussing the possibility of the New College Institute becoming a branch campus of an existing university or becoming a stand-alone institution, said Dr. Barry Dorsey, executive director of the New College Institute planning commission.

"I think the point there is not that they (senators) oppose (the New College becoming a stand-alone institution) but that they don't want to have overstated expectations," he said. "It doesn't mean that it can't happen; it just means the bill will be silent on it ... If we do a good job, my assessment is that in a few years, we could come back to the legislature (and) SCHEV will consider it at that time."

The Senate committee also amended the structure and make-up of the New College's board, removing language that would have established an interim board until 2012, said Dorsey. In its place would be a 12-member permanent board made up of seven gubernatorial appointees and five legislative appointees.

That amendment matches changes made to the bill last week in a House subcommittee.

Despite the changes made to the bill, Dorsey characterized the Senate subcommittee's referral as a victory.

"I think we went through the legislative process in the Senate and came out with something that we can live with," he said. "We can establish an entity and we can get to business. I think it's a victory."

Dorsey will hope for another success this afternoon, when the House version of the enabling legislation will be considered by its full Appropriations Committee. On Tuesday, the House Appropriation's Subcommittee on Higher Education reported the bill unanimously, said Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, a co-sponsor of the bill.

While Armstrong said he is optimistic that the Appropriations Committee will refer the legislation to the House floor, he said he did not expect it would do so without opposition.

"We seem to be in good shape but this is the legislative process and until the vote is taken, you're never really sure," he said."I do not expect it to be unanimous. There are already people who have indicated they will vote" not to refer the bill.

For the most part, said Armstrong, the nay votes will stem from reservations about a long-term financial commitment to a new public institution of higher learning when the state is having difficulties funding the existing institutions.

"This (New College) thing has almost universal support back home and folks that you talk to are sometimes incredulous that someone in Richmond would be against it," he said. "But you need to understand that there are a limited amount of resources and there is intense competition for those resources."

In fact, said Armstrong, when mandatory budget items v such as pay for teachers and police officers vare stripped away, legislators are left with just 2 or 3 percent of the budget to fund discretionary items such as the New College.

Should the Appropriations Committee refer the bill, the House and the Senate both will take floor votes on the legislation. While Dorsey said he was unsure of when those votes would take place, they must be over by Tuesday v known as "crossover day" v when each house is given the opportunity to pass the other's legislation.

Most likely should the bill make it that far, each house will reject the other's version of the New College enabling bill and it will go into a conference committee, which will iron out differences between the two, Dorsey said.

"We're getting there slowly but surely. That's my prediction anyway," he added.


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