House panel clears college

February 12, 2006

Bulletin Staff Writer

Legislation that would create the New College Institute cleared another hurdle on Friday when the House Appropriations Committee reported the bill to the House floor, said Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville.

Following several days of discussion on the bill, the House should take a final vote on the New College's enabling legislation on Tuesday, said Armstrong.

A similar process is under way in the Senate, where the Finance Committee reported its version of the bill on Thursday.

Both chambers must approve the bills by Tuesday, and then they go to the opposite chamber and start the process over again, according to Dr. Barry Dorsey, executive director of the New College Institute planning commission.

If both chambers pass the legislation, the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill will have to be reconciled before its final votes.

Committees in both houses have amended the structure and makeup of the New College board, eliminating an interim board that would have guided the institution until 2012 in favor of a single, 12-member permanent board made up of seven gubernatorial appointees and five legislative appointees.

The Senate Finance Committee also eliminated language in the original bill that discussed the possibility of the New College Institute becoming a branch campus of an existing university or becoming a stand-alone institution.

The House bill calls for the New College board to report to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) by 2011, when it could discuss "the prospects for New College to become a branch campus of an existing public institution of higher education or the readiness of New College to become a baccalaureate college ... ."

The Senate bill omits that passage, stating instead that "The Board shall direct the development and focus of New College's curriculum. The curriculum shall include appropriate degree and nondegree programs offered by other educational institutions."

In addition to settling that difference, bill supporters will also have to work to maintain the $4.5 million earmarked for the New College in former Gov. Mark Warner's proposed budget.

"The Appropriations Committee is not going to pass a bill and then turn around and gut its funding," said Armstrong. "Those are inconsistent actions and it's not going to happen. But there could be some trimming of that money."

But for now, Armstrong said he and others who have been lobbying for the bill will be working to ensure its passage on the House and Senate floors.

Given the number of eyes that have seen and accepted the legislation, Armstrong said he is optimistic about the bill's future in the House.

"The bill has now been seen by 24 members of the Appropriations Committee and 22 members of the Education Committee -- that's almost half the legislature right there," he said. "I feel like we are in as good a shape as we can be in."

But Armstrong said nothing is certain in politics.

"I've been in the legislature for many years now and I don't take anything for granted," he said. "I'll continue to be talking with delegates through the weekend."

Dorsey added that he is "cautiously optimistic" that the assembly will approve the plans in some form.

"I continue to be impressed by the efforts of the team down there and also by the fact that everybody seems to want to help Martinsville-Henry County in some way," he said Saturday. "I do think something will be approved and I look forward" to setting up that entity.


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