Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Snow and a Flurry of Legislative Activity.  A lot of legislative activity, but who knows how much will end up in the ditch on the slippery roads of the legislative process?  Okay, I'll quit with the snow jokes.  If you are all like me, you're wondering how much Florida real estate is going for these days, but why would anyone want to be in a sunny climate when you can have this much fun following legislative activity.

It was a full day of committee meetings, kicking off bright and early with the House Education Finance Committee and the Senate E-12 Division.  Those meetings were largely devoted to local bills, but the discussion surrounding several of these bills was very interesting as it touched on issues like why districts cannot automatically transfer excess debt service revenue and why the current equity formula is structured the way that it is.  A lot of interesting questions.

The House Education Policy dealt with bills relating to school siting decisions (keeping them away from former landfills) and allowing schools to keep a supply of epinephrine pens.  But the lion's share of time in that committee was dedicated to two bills dealing with students in care and treatment programs.  The first bill on this subject is an attempt to make certain that students in care and treatment programs remain eligible for extra-curricular activities to the same extent as Minnesota State High School League rules allow.  It is believed that this bill is redundant as Minnesota State High School League rules are silent on the status of students in care and treatment programs and students cannot be declared ineligible solely on the basis that they are in a care and treatment program.  The Minnesota State High School League plans on sending a letter to all school districts in the state clarifying this policy, hopefully making the passage of this bill unnecessary.

HF 361 (Slocum), a bill that would dramatically change the way school districts interface with care and treatment programs, was next on the docket and discussion went so long that the debate spilled over into an evening meeting.  The big question facing this bill is funding.  There are a lot of changes that would increase costs for school districts, but the bill also calls for increased funding, largely to pay for projected increases in transportation and education costs.  Several groups voiced the need for clarification of many of the provisions.  While there are some concerns with the bill, those concerns shouldn't detract from the work done by Sue Abderholden, Executive Director of the Minnesota branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in pulling this legislation together.  This bill is the work product of an informal working group that has met over the past three years.  There are still some things that need to be ironed out (and the cost may prove prohibitive), but NAMI's commitment to children with mental illness and/or drug and alcohol issues cannot be questioned.

The anti-bullying bill was heard in committees in both the House and Senate today.  The Senate Education Policy Committee heard SF 783 (Dibble), the first committee stop for the bill on the Senate side of the street.  The House Civil Law Committee heard HF 826 (Davnie), the House companion to SF 783.  This was the second stop for HF 826, as it was recommended to pass and re-referred to the Civil Law Committee by the House Education Policy Committee last week.  While the discussion in the Civil Law Committee was supposed to focus only on those provisions relating to data collection, that admonishment largely went unheeded, as the debate was as much about free speech rights and other constitutional issues as anything else.

Big day tomorrow (Wednesday) with the Office of the Legislative Auditor releasing its study on Minnesota's special education system.

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