2014 State Relations Session Summary

Although Governor Dayton declared the 2014 legislative session an “unsession” to focus on eliminating redundant and obsolete laws, the Legislature debated and passed a variety of new, and sometimes controversial, bills. In fact, 2,834 bills were introduced this year; the Office of Government and Community Relations tracked over 400 of these bills throughout the session because of their relevance to the University. The office also tracked hundreds of bills that remained active from the 2013 session.

The Legislature adjourned sine die on Friday, May 16. The governor signed into law 77 bills that may impact the University. This marks the end of the legislative biennium; all bills that did not pass are no longer active.

Below is a summary of some of the highlights of this past session.

Capital request

The University of Minnesota requested $232.7 million in state funding for six capital investment projects during the 2014 session. The request included $100 million for Higher Education Asset Prevention and Replacement (HEAPR), $56.7 million for the Tate Science and Teaching Renovation, $30 million for a new Microbial Sciences Research Building, $10 million for a Campus Wellness Center in Crookston, $12 million for a Laboratory Improvement Fund, and $24 million for a Chemical Sciences and Advanced Materials Building in Duluth.

On January 15, Governor Dayton released his 2014 capital investment recommendations to the State Legislature. His $986 million bonding proposal included $188.7 million for the University. Governor Dayton’s proposal fully funded three of the University’s six bonding projects: Tate Science and Teaching Renovation ($56.7 million), the Campus Wellness Center ($10 million), and the Laboratory Improvement Fund ($18 million). It included $40 million for HEAPR, an amount significantly lower than the University’s requested $100 million. The proposal did not include funding for the Microbial Sciences Research Building ($30 million) or the Chemistry and Material Sciences Building ($24 million). The House and Senate also released versions of their recommendations leading up to the mandatory adjournment date. View a comparison of the recommendations.

In early March, President Kaler and Vice President for University Services Pam Wheelock advocated for the University’s 2014 capital request in presentations before the House and Senate higher education committees. Prior to these hearings, President Kaler gave a press briefing at the Capitol, where he outlined the U’s capital request projects, responded to the governor’s bonding recommendations, and expressed his hope that the Legislature would fully fund the University’s projects.

On May 14, the House and Senate released their $850 million bonding bill agreement, which included $119.4 million for the University. The bill fully funded two of the University’s six requested projects: Tate Science and Teaching Renovation ($56.7 million) and the Campus Wellness Center ($10 million). Three University projects received partial funding: HEAPR ($42.5 million), the Laboratory Improvement Fund ($8.7 million), and the Chemical Sciences and Advanced Research Materials Building ($1.5 million). The bill did not include funding for the Microbial Sciences Research Building. Bell Museum funding had been proposed in the House recommendations and received funding in the supplemental budget bill. Governor Dayton signed the bonding bill on May 20.

Supplemental budget 

During bonding (even-numbered) years the Legislature often passes a supplemental budget bill. The state budget surplus allowed the Legislature to pass a $283 million bill this year, including several provisions relating to the University:

Terrestrial Invasive Species Research Center ($4.86 million one-time)
This funds the establishment of a Terrestrial Invasive Species Research Center at the University. College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences interim dean Brian Buhr and Professor Susan Galatowitsch, department head for fisheries, wildlife, and conversation biology, testified in favor of the funding, explaining how the center would operate and help Minnesota continue to be a leader in invasive species research.

Regenerative Medicine ($4.35 million ongoing) 
The bill creates an advisory group, including a member from the University, to determine how this money will be distributed to support regenerative medicine research. Dr. Jakub Tolar, director of the Stem Cell Institute, testified in support of this funding and explained how the money would benefit the Stem Cell Institute and other work in regenerative medicine.

Bell Museum of Natural History ($3.5 million ongoing until 2041) 
The University is requested to build a new museum. The funds will be used to pay the debt service on the new building.

PEDV Research ($200,000 one-time)
This provides funding for University research on prevention and cures for this virus.

Forever Green ($1 million one-time) 
The legislation supports University research to “protect the state's natural resources while increasing the efficiency, profitability, and productivity of Minnesota farmers by incorporating perennial and winter-annual crops into existing agricultural practices.” Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics professor Don Wyse testified in both the House and Senate in support of funding this research.

Student Loan Refinancing Policy 
The bill authorizes the Office of Higher Education to offer refinancing on student loans.

Adoption Program for Animals Policy 
The bill requires that research institutions intending to euthanize dogs or cats for non-research purposes must first offer the dog or cat to an animal rescue organization that intends to find a permanent, adoptive home for that animal.

Study Abroad Program Policy 
The University must report annually to the State on deaths, accidents, and illnesses that occur as a result of program participation.

Military Veterans Resident Tuition Policy 
This provides resident tuition rates for military veterans who attend University graduate and professional programs. Existing policy provides resident tuition for undergraduate military veterans.

Higher education “un-session”

In collaboration with the Office of Higher Education and MnSCU, the Office of Government and Community Relations worked with the House and Senate higher education committee chairs to write this uncontroversial bill eliminating redundant and obsolete laws. It passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.

Kill switch

This new law requires all smartphones sold in Minnesota to contain “kill switch” technology. U of M Police Chief Greg Hestness testified this session in favor of requiring new smartphones purchased in Minnesota to have this function, which, in case of theft of a phone, disables the phone and erases all saved data. The phone can be reactivated with a passcode by the owner if recovered. Chief Hestness testified that the lucrative and easy sale of stolen cell phones was one of the main factors in the spike in robberies on and near campus last fall.

LCCMR funding

This law appropriates roughly $13 million from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund to over thirty University projects.

TCF Bank Stadium liquor license

This law allows beer and wine to continue being sold as currently practiced at TCF Bank Stadium.

Fiscal notes

Fiscal notes are requested by legislators to help them understand the state fiscal impact of legislation. A fiscal note estimates the costs, savings, and revenue gain or loss resulting from the implementation of proposed legislation. During the 2014 legislative session, thirteen fiscal notes were requested of the University.

Mandated reports

Each year, the Legislature mandates reports and studies from different government and public agencies. Often, mandated reports are requested of agencies and programs funded by state appropriations. The University has submitted five mandated reports so far this year. View the 2014 mandated reports.

Communications and events

Capitol meetings
The University continued a strong program of one-on-one meetings between policymakers and University representatives. The president, vice presidents, deans, regents, and researchers spent considerable time meeting with legislators to push for favorable legislation for the University. Meeting topics included our 2014 capital request, regenerative medicine, PEDV research, terrestrial invasive species, adoption of research animals, liquor sales, and more. The Government Relations team scheduled over 200 meetings with legislators throughout the session.

University tours
Leading up to the legislative session, the Government Relations team hosted over 50 individual legislators to tour and learn more about specific areas of research, teaching, and learning, beyond the capital request. Some of the facilities that legislators visited include School of Dentistry’s Simulation Clinic, School of Nursing’s Simulation Center, SimPORTAL, Visible Heart Laboratory, Medical Devices Center, Robotics Laboratory, Physics and Nanotechnology Building, and Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

Legislative Briefing
In February, students, faculty, alumni, and staff gathered for the 2014 Legislative Briefing to learn about the University’s capital request and how to advocate for it at the State Capitol. During the pre-program reception, attendees mingled with students and faculty directly impacted by the six capital request projects. These personal exchanges brought the projects and their importance to life. U of M Alumnus and special correspondent for Twin Cities Public Television, David Gillette, made the keynote address on how to be an effective advocate at the Capitol.

Support the U Day
On Thursday, March 27, students from all five University campuses gathered at the State Capitol to meet one-on-one or in small-groups with their elected officials to urge them to support the U’s capital request and thank them for instituting a tuition freeze last session. Over 50 of these meetings took place throughout the day. Support the U Day also included a forum with Senators Terri Bonoff and Jeremy Miller of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, and Representative Gene Pelowski of the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee.

Legislative Network
The University's group of legislative advocates took on a new identity this session. The group, which is now known as the Legislative Action Network (formerly the Support the U Network), comprises supportive alumni, faculty, staff, students, and community members. Action Network members are asked to engage with their elected officials by writing letters, making phone calls, and attending events.

Calls-to-action
Three separate calls-to-action were issued to the University's Legislative Action Network during the 2014 session. Members were asked to engage with their elected officials and send a message in support of the University's legislative priorities. A total of 1,044 messages were sent to elected officials during session. This year was also the first time the UMAA sent out two action alerts to all in-state alumni not already in the Legislative Action Network. This helped to broaden the audience for advocacy messages and generated additional activity.

Twitter
Leading up to and throughout session, Government Relations used its Twitter account (@UMNGovRelations) to educate policymakers, the public, and the media about the importance of the University’s 2014 capital request. Several tweets were sent daily, and state legislators following the account increased by 10 percentage points.

Government Relations also collaborated with staff and students using Twitter to highlight each capital request project. University Twitter users were encouraged to use #6StepsForward and #HEAPRisCheaper to elevate awareness of the University’s request. This coordinated effort proved especially powerful each time capital request recommendations were released, resulting in numerous favorites and retweets from legislators, key legislative staff, and media. This communication tool allowed the University to have a consistent presence in the #mnleg Twitter feed amid many other advocates and issues.

State Relations Updates
This session, Government Relations published ten State Relations Updates to engage University staff and faculty in the legislative process and to provide details of the status of key legislation concerning the University. In addition to being posted on the Government and Community Relations website, State Relations Updates are emailed to over 1,000 University staff, faculty, and students.

Retirements

This November, Minnesota House members face elections. As a result, fourteen representatives announced their retirement at the end of the legislative session. After the election, Government and Community Relations will focus on educating new legislators about the University and its priorities. The Legislature will convene again on January 6, 2015.

View all of the State Relations Updates from the 2014 Minnesota Legislative Session.