Legislative notebook: Legislature approves freezing college tuitions

Rep. Carly Melin

By Danielle Killey and Don Davis

A bill funding Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and the University of Minnesota systems freezes tuitions.

Senators passed the bill 44-22 and the House 76-56 Friday.

Democrats said their bill restores funding that was cut under Republicans.

“This bill will finally reverse that trend, which has been making college education more expensive and less affordable at a time when it is more important,” Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, said.

The bill gives the university $42.6 million and MnSCU $95 million to freeze tuition for the next two years.

Republicans were divided over the Democrat-written bill.

Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, complained that the bill includes what used to be known as the DREAM Act, a provision to allow undocumented immigrants access to state-run colleges and universities like other Minnesotans.

Westrom said it “dilutes money Minnesota students will get.”

Even if those students do get financial breaks, they probably would have a hard time finding jobs after graduation, he added. “Without employment, that becomes a nearly impossible task.”

Other Republicans praised the bill.

“This is a good bill for the students, all students in Minnesota,” Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said.

MnSCU Chancellor Steven Rosenstone said the bill “will help increase access to higher education for all Minnesotans and ensure that our colleges and universities remain affordable and within reach of students from all backgrounds.”

Public safety OK’d

The House and Senate approved a bill to fund courts, crime victim programs and law enforcement 121-12 and 64-1, respectively.

The bill also expands information in the background check system for gun purchases. It does not broaden background checks or ban any weapons or ammunition.

“We have been successful in threading the political needle on the reducing gun violence issue by finding the funding and the language to fill in the gaps in the background check database, particularly to include the mental health and civil commitment data,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said.

The bill allocates about $5.6 million for upgrading the criminal history system, $2.7 million for the state’s crime statistic reporting system and $1 million to integrate non-electronic data into the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s system.

“This will greatly improve our background check system across the state by putting the missing data into the background check system,” House Judiciary Finance and Policy Committee Chairwoman Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said.

The bill includes $3 million for crime victim shelters, services and programs.

It also sets aside $860,000 over the next two years to create a School Safety Center to assess threats to Minnesota schools and provide training and assistance for school safety.

Judges also will see salary increases of 3 percent each year in the next two years.

Senate approves jobs

The Senate approved a jobs and economic development bill 40-27, sending it to Gov. Mark Dayton’s desk for a signature.

The bill would fund job creation, training and economic development programs. It also sets energy standards, including requiring 1.5 percent of investor-owned utilities’ power to come from solar energy by 2020.

“This bill may be the most significant job creation bill in many years, making economic development across the state a top priority,” sponsor Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said. “The energy provisions in this bill allow our communities to get in on the solar boom happening across America. More importantly, we make sure that the solar development happening in Minnesota, directly benefits Minnesotans.”

The bill offers incentives for Minnesota-made solar products.

The House approved the bill earlier.

“It’s not a piecemeal approach,” Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said. “It’s an all-of-the-above strategy that pulls out all the stops when it comes to job creation.”

Warehousing tax, solar linked

The Minnesota Trucking Association says a plan to extend the state sales tax to warehousing services could impact state solar power efforts.

MTA President John Hausladen said the tax expansion “will drive customers to position their inventories in Wisconsin, Iowa and the Dakotas. Minnesota warehouse space will shrink, along with current and future solar generation capacity.”

A recently passed plan would require solar electricity generation to reach 1.5 percent by 2020, but the sales tax expansion could hurt that, the organization argues.

Foreclosure protections OK’d

A bill that would offer help to Minnesotans facing foreclosure passed the Senate 61-1.

The bill is aimed at protecting homeowners through measures including requiring all information on foreclosures be readily available, banning “dual tracking,” where banks or loan servicers foreclose without answering whether the loan can be modified and covering lawyer and court costs for homeowners to bring the foreclosure to court if loan offices fail to comply with the law.

Cigarette tax praised

Health organizations praised a proposed $1.60-per-pack cigarette tax hike.

“This significant bump in the price of tobacco products will inspire many adults to quit and help keep our kids from smoking,” Matt Schafer of the American Cancer Society said.

The Raise it for Health coalition said the increase could save more than 25,700 Minnesotans from premature smoking-related deaths.

The increase would set the state’s total cigarette tax at $2.83 per pack.

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