Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Federal and State Legislative Wrap-up

The Statehouse is quiet and Congress has gone home; legislators are back in their districts gearing up for either the holidays or their next campaign push, whichever season motivates them more. The lobbyists and trade associations are accounting for wins, losses and draws—and prepping legislation for the next go-around in the new year.

Federal Issues

We are currently keeping an eye on federal legislation making its way through Congress before the winter break—specifically, H.R. 2764, an omnibus 2008 appropriations bill that wraps together nearly all annual federal spending. This bill accounts for $517 billion dollars in appropriated funds for domestic spending and earmarks including federal student aid and academic research.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required), “higher education is hardly the only area that faces reductions under the omnibus bill, which would finance every federal agency except the Pentagon. In an effort to bring the bill into line with the President’s proposed budget, Democrats reluctantly imposed a 1.7 percent across-the-board rescission on all domestic programs in the previous bills.”

We are also focusing on H.R. 4137, the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (COAA). The bill would complete the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which was partially addressed in September with the passage of H.R. 2669, the College Cost Reduction and Access Act. COAA was rushed through the U.S. House committee process in November, but faced widespread resistance by House members to moving it to the floor for passage in December.

The bill is likely to be passed in early February, which will lead to a conference with the Senate and its bill, S. 1642, the Higher Education Amendments. We expect COAA to be amended on the floor to significantly improve it compared to the committee-passed bill, although it is unclear whether independent colleges will be satisfied with its final terms.

State Issues

In the Statehouse, there are a number of bills awaiting passage on topics ranging from tests to books to law enforcement.

HB 347

Summary: House Education Committee Chairwoman Arlene Setzer’s (R – Vandalia) bill would remove the Praxis III test as qualification for receipt of a “professional license” for entry-year teachers, replacing it with a district-by-district assessment process.

Update: The bill is currently stuck in legislative limbo. With the House Education Committee not planning to meet until further notice, the Ohio Department of Education has plenty of time to formulate a position on the bill. AICUO has taken an official “neutral” stance on the bill as we have varying points of view from member institutions.

SB 151

Summary: Sen. Tom Roberts (D – Trotwood) has drafted a bill to attempt to slash prices of textbooks by requiring full price disclosure by publishers and unbundling by bookstores.

Update: The bill had two hearings in Senate Education Committee and has stalled since. On the federal front, U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), has been pushing a similar textbook bill, provisions of which are included in COAA.

SB 222

Summary: Sen. Gary Cates (R – West Chester), a member of the Ohio Task Force on College Campus Safety that was formed following the Virginia Tech shootings, proposed legislation to aid with the implementation of three key recommendations of the task force. His legislation focuses on adding a member of the Ohio Campus Law Enforcement Association to the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission (OPOTC) and requires the OPOTC to develop recommendations for training peace officers in conducting law enforcement on a college campus. In addition, the bill provides qualified immunity to an officer or employee of a private college or university who reports a potential safety risk on the campus.

Update: AICUO has met with Sen. Cates to express our support for his bill. It awaits action in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and is expected to be heard again upon return in the new year.

Dustin Holfinger