New College Institute: House, Senate OK bills

February 15, 2006

Bulletin Staff Writer

Legislation that would establish the New College Institute cleared floor votes in both the House of Delegates and Senate on Tuesday.

The Senate version of the bill passed unanimously while the House approved its version on a vote of 95-5.

"That's a good, strong vote coming out of the House and it indicates to me there is broad-based support for this initiative," said Del. Ward Armstrong, D-Collinsville, chief patron of the House bill.

"I was very heartened by the vote," added co-patron Del. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham. "It's been a long time getting to this point and the original proposal from two years ago has undergone significant change but I think we finally arrived at something that is politically acceptable."

The votes came on what is known as "crossover day," when legislation approved in one chamber is passed to the other, where it once again must clear reviews at the subcommittee and committee levels before going to the floor for a final vote.

During that process, legislators will have an opportunity to reconcile the differences that now exist between the House and Senate versions of the New College-enabling legislation.

Committees in both houses made similar changes to 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.

But only the Senate struck language in the original bill that included the process by which the New College board could, in several years, discuss with the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) "the prospects for the 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 ... ."

In the place of that passage, which is included in the House bill, the Senate bill states that the college's board shall provide a curriculum consisting of "appropriate degree and non-degree programs offered by other educational institutions."

If the New College bills that emerge from the House and Senate over the next few weeks still contain those differences, they will be sent to a conference committee, which will work to iron out a single bill acceptable to both chambers.

In addition to conforming the Senate and House bills, legislators will be working to maintain the $4.5 million earmarked for the institution in former Gov. Mark Warner's proposed budget.

Both Armstrong and Hurt were confident that the House's proposed budget would contain at least some funds for the New College, particularly since the body responsible for that proposal, the Appropriations Committee, has reviewed and endorsed the concept of the college.

In lobbying for the institution's funding, though, the delegates will face some detractors. One of them is Del. Mark L. Cole, R-Fredericksburg, who was one of five delegates who opposed the New College bill during the House floor vote.

"Right now, all the current state colleges are crying for more money and I'm not sure it's the right time to add another one to the mess," said Cole.

But after Tuesday's votes, the bills' chief supporters said they are confident their colleagues are willing to do what is necessary to help Southside recover from the economic downturn it has endured for more than a decade.

"People in Martinsville and Henry County realize that they will never be able to compete (in a global marketplace) without adequate access to higher education," said Hurt. "Folks recognize that we can't keep doing the same thing over and over again and get different results, that we need something different. And I was gratified that the majority of the General Assembly agreed."


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