Sunday, April 06, 2014

Legislative Whirlwind.  

Thursday and Friday were two very busy days in terms of education and budget policy as both the House and Senate were embroiled in debate on a number of education-related bills.  The Senate is the body where the most contentious (and confusing) debate took place.  The contentious part of the equation took place with the passage of HF 826, the anti-bullying bill authored by Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis).  Debate was polite, but the sides on the bill have been clearly drawn from the beginning and even after the considerable changes made to the bill since it passed the House of Representatives last spring, smooth sailing for the bill has pretty much always been determined to be out of the question.  Several amendments were passed--most notably an amendment that changed the name of the School Climate Center funded last session to the School Safety Technical Assistance Center--during the debate and while it is difficult to tell whether or not the passage of these amendments helped garner the necessary support needed for passage, they did little to quell opposition to the bill.  Another amendment struck the mission statement from the bill on a vote of 35-32.  An amendment that would have provided an anti-bullying legislation extremely close to the policy passed in North Dakota in 2011 failed.  The final vote on the bill was 36-31, with three DFLers joining a united Republican caucus in opposing the bill.  The bill will now head back to the House of Representatives and all indications are that the House will concur with the Senate amendments and attempt to send the bill directly to the Governor without having to convene a conference committee.  The focus of the bill's opposition will now be directed toward House DFL members who are perceived as being vulnerable in the 2014 elections.  The House passed the bill last session on a vote of 72-57.  Many of the provisions in that version of the bill that were questioned by the education community have been softened by the Senate action, but even with that being the case, re-passage is by no means a foregone conclusion.  Stay tuned.

The more entertaining action in the Senate took place in the Senate Finance Committee, where the committee was assembling its version of HF 3172, the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill.  In putting together the section dealing with E-12 appropriations, it was announced that the budget framework of bill--SF 767--that was reported out of the E-12 Funding Division spent too much in the next biennium (referred to as "budget tails") and that spending that contributed to on-going base costs that would contribute to growth in the budget base would have to be pared back.  To accomplish this, the amendment offered and approved to put the bill in balance cut the increases in the EL program (increase in per pupil reimbursement for non-English speaking students and an increase in the term of eligibility from five years to six years) and replaced it with limited one-time funding for teacher evaluation.  Where the plot thickened was an amendment was offered to re-instate the EL funding without cutting any appropriations.  That amendment was approved and the bill was out of balance.  This happened fairly late on Thursday evening and with the snow falling and the wind whistling, the committee decided to adjourn for the evening.  On its return on Friday, the committee left all the provisions in the bill, but scaled back all of them by about 20%.  The bill then passed and now will be discussed and likely passed on the Senate floor on Monday or Tuesday.

Meanwhile in the House.  The House passed the supplemental appropriations bill (HF 3172) on Thursday on a vote of 70-59 on a straight party-line vote.  There were several amendments offered on the education portion of the bill (HF 3171), but nothing of note passed.  Friday afternoon's debate on the Education Policy bill (HF 2397) was a bit more lively.  An issue that has cropped up over which the Republicans have been making noise is the military compact legislation that at its face value provides consistency in education program and removes educational barriers for students in military families.  Because the military compact governs the activities in multiple states, some Republicans view it as an improper intrusion by the Federal Government into state education  policy.  The debate often sidles up to discussion of the Common Core, debate over which has begun to percolate as the election season nears.  The Education Policy bill passed on a vote of 82-39.

Break in Sight.  A week or so ago I reported that indications existed that the Legislature may try to get its work done by the time its scheduled break for the spring religious holidays on April 11 rolled around.  Alas, that will not be happening and the Legislature will return after the Easter/Passover break.  That doesn't mean things won't be happening this week.  With the passage by the House of a second tax bill that adds approximately $100 million in additional tax cuts to the $432 million passed last month, the Senate will likely be taking up that discussion and finalize their version of the bill, at least at the committee level.  It is expected that the Senate will pass its version of the omnibus supplemental appropriations bill this week, setting up the conference committee for that bill.  The question that remains is whether or not the Senate will take up an education policy bill.  Again, stay tuned.

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