State Relations

March 27, 2007

WA Learns Higher Ed Bills: The Saga Continues

At the beginning of the 2007 legislative session, the Governor’s office introduced her Washington Learns bill for higher education in both the Senate and the House.  SB 5806 and HB 1882 were intended to be the vehicles for establishing both a state tuition policy for resident undergraduates and a policy of benchmarking per student funding for institutions of higher education at the 60th percentile of global challenge state peer schools.  Passage of one of these measures is one of the University’s major priorities for the 2007 session.

Majority Democrats in the Senate took the somewhat unorthodoxed approach of having Republican Senator Mark Schoesler (D-Ritzville) be the prime sponsor of SB 5806.  Generally, members of the majority party sponsor Governor request legislation and more than a few eyebrows were raised when Schoesler’s name appeared as prime sponsor.  However, SB 5806 virtually sailed through the Senate with relatively minor amendments and is now sitting in the House Higher Education Committee having passed the full Senate unanimously.

In the House of Representatives, however, the Governor’s Washington Learns higher education legislation has faced a much bumpier ride.  First, the original Governor request bill ended up being quickly replaced by a separate number (1882) and title introduced by House Higher Education Committee chair Rep. Deb Wallace (D-Vancouver).  Then, before executive action was taken in committee on February 26, much of the Governor’s policy related to the global challenge states was removed in a substitute bill drafted by the chair because of her interest in conducting a cost study of higher education before establishing per student funding goals and peer groups.

During the committee hearing, however, a separate amendment offered by Rep. Jim McIntire (D-Seattle) ended up passing with both Democrat and Republican support that reinstated all of the Governor’s tuition and global challenge state policy.  In addition, Rep. McIntire’s amendment also permitted the governing boards of higher education institutions to go above the bill’s 7 percent tuition cap IF the legislature failed to provide sufficient state appropriations to keep the universitities on target to achieve the 60th percentile per student funding goals within the 10 year timeframe.

HB 1882 was sent to the House Appropriations Committee in this form and a public hearing was held a week ago last Monday at which President Mark Emmert testified in strong support on behalf of all six public baccalaureate institutions.  Yesterday afternoon, the committee attempted to take executive action on the proposal.  Before the members was an even newer version of the bill which removed the controversial McIntire tuition-setting provision as well as a number of additional amendments by Rep. Glenn Anderson (R-Issaquah) that would have added new requirements to the higher education cost studies, removed reference to the global challenge state institutions, and reduced the per student funding goals from the 60th to the 50th percentile of “similar” institutions.

After more than an hour of behind closed door committee caucus meetings, the members returned at 5:00 p.m. and chairwoman Helen Sommers (D-Seattle) announced the committee would not take action on HB 1882 during that meeting.

Today, the House Appropriations Committee will try again to take action on HB 1882 at their 3:30 p.m. meeting.  We’ll post the results of today’s committee meeting in the next blog entry.