The original plan put forward by the Speaker would have abolished our current higher education governance structure which includes the Board of Regents and four management boards. He envisioned replacing that with a single board to run the 20 or so institutions now under the purview of the existing university management boards. The community and technical college system would have retained its current board.

Education WatchThe original plan put forward by the Speaker would have abolished our current higher education governance structure which includes the Board of Regents and four management boards. He envisioned replacing that with a single board to run the 20 or so institutions now under the purview of the existing university management boards. The community and technical college system would have retained its current board.

CABL expressed concerns about the details of the Speaker’s proposal as well as the timing of such a major restructuring in the face of major budget cuts. The bill failed to get out of committee as lawmakers deadlocked on the measure with an 8-8 vote. The measure stayed dormant for weeks and seemed to be dead for the session before popping up again on the agenda shortly before the House Education Committee met this week.

The speculation was that the Speaker found an extra vote to get the bill moving, but the reality turned out to be that he planned to gut that bill and replace it with something completely different. And so he did. Instead of essentially blowing up the current governance structure and replacing it with something completely different, the new plan is to keep things as they are but to redefine some of the powers of the Board of Regents. This is similar to the position CABL took earlier when we called upon the Legislature to make whatever changes in the law are needed to more clearly define the authority and legal responsibilities as they relate to the Board of Regents and the various system management boards.

Why is that important? Because seemingly conflicting language in state law has muddied the waters over clear lines of authority. There is plenty of room for argument over whether certain things are management functions of the management boards or policy functions of the Board of Regents.

Historically, this has made it difficult for the Regents to adopt and implement significant policy and budget changes in an efficient and financially sound manner. As a result, many of the needed changes in higher education in Louisiana have been only incrementally enacted over the last two decades while other states have forged ahead and reaped economic benefits not seen to the same degree in our state.

CABL has and continues to endorse this concept of clarifying and better defining the roles of the Board of Regents and the various management boards. We believe it is essential to clearly know who is in charge of what and which body to hold accountable for results.

That said, we think it is critical to thoroughly review the language in this new legislation, vet it with various stakeholders, and more fully understand the potential consequences. This would be an important change for all of post-secondary education and coming late in the legislative session as it is, we must be certain that we get it right.

CABL also supports SB 538 by Sen. Ben Nevers that seeks to do some of the same things in a more limited way through changes in statute rather than the constitution. We believe it is important that both measures move forward and we continue to analyze and refine them as needed.

We need clear definitions of roles and we need real accountability in higher education. These are both steps in the right direction.

More Happenings at the Capitol
Ethics: Last week we commented on SB 583 by Sen. Karen Carter Peterson. This was a frightening piece of legislation that would exempt members of city or parish governing bodies across the state from meeting in public if they meet informally in groups of four or fewer – even if that constitutes a quorum. Board members would be able to discuss government matters over which they have direct supervision, power or jurisdiction provided they don’t take a formal vote.

After being pulled from the Senate and Governmental Affairs agenda last week, it was re-scheduled for this week. However, prior to the committee meeting the legislation was once again pulled from the agenda. It appears that this piece of legislation has been shelved for this session, but CABL will continue to monitor any attempts to weaken accountability and prevent the public from access to the business of our elected and government officials.

Budget: The philosophical differences between the House and Senate on how to handle the current budget situation, both the supplemental budget for the remainder of this year and the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, have created a real stalemate.

Both the Senate and the House have passed a concurrent resolution authorizing the use of $198 million from the Budget Stabilization Fund to fill the budget gap in the current fiscal year ending June 30. But, a difference on how and when that money should be repaid to the fund has placed the two bodies squarely at odds.

The stalemate spilled over into a meeting of the Revenue and Estimating Conference earlier this week when an agenda item to recognize the “rainy day” fund money authorized for use in the House and Senate resolutions was temporarily deferred and no action taken.

Tension between the chambers is also being seen as a result of HB1 (the budget bill for fiscal year 2011). The budget bill always starts in the House and traditionally is passed on to the Senate by the Memorial Day Holiday weekend. Well, as it currently stands, HB1 is still in the House Appropriations Committee waiting on a final vote there before still having to move on to the House floor. Needless to say, the Senate is getting antsy for its say on what the budget will look like, especially with just over three weeks left in the session.

There are signs of movement, however. HB 1 has now been placed on the agenda of the House Appropriations Committee this afternoon. That might be a signal that the budget is starting to move, but doesn’t necessarily mean that the fundamental differences between the House and Senate have been resolved. 


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