2015 State Relations Session Summary

After the November 2014 elections, the State of Minnesota once again had a divided government. The Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, while DFL Governor Mark Dayton was re-elected. The DFL-controlled Senate was not up for re-election.

In February 2015, the budget forecast nearly doubled the projected surplus to $2 billion, causing the governor to revise his proposed budget. For the FY16-17 biennium, the governor proposed $43 billion in spending, while the Senate proposed $42.7 billion and the House proposed $42.6 billion.

During the 2015 regular session, the House and Senate introduced 4,612 bills. The University of Minnesota’s Office of Government and Community Relations tracked over 500 bills relevant to the University. Only 80 bills were passed to the governor, the fewest number of laws enacted in a regular session since Minnesota’s statehood. Of these, the governor signed into law 20 bills that may impact the University. Since this year marked the beginning of the legislative biennium, all bills remain active in 2016.

The Legislature and the governor were unable to reach a compromise before the constitutionally mandated end of session on May 18. Consequently, the governor called for a one-day special session on June 12. Altogether, lawmakers passed a biennial budget of $42 billion, leaving about $800 million of the $1.9 billion surplus unspent. The Legislature is scheduled to meet again in regular session on March 8, 2016.

2016-17 biennial budget request 

The University of Minnesota requested $148.2 million in increased state funding for the 2016-17 biennium. This request included four components: $65.2 million for a tuition freeze for resident undergraduate, graduate, and professional students; $15 million for the Facility Condition Improvement Strategy, an initiative to reduce long-term facility maintenance projects and address critical projects more efficiently; $55.5 million for Healthy Minnesota and the Medical School, initiatives to address health care professional shortages and create medical discovery teams; and $12.5 million for Vibrant Communities, an initiative aimed at strengthening communities throughout Minnesota.

University presentations

In January, in addition to meeting with Governor Dayton, President Kaler presented the University’s biennial budget request at a press briefing at the Capitol. In February, he presented the request to the House Higher Education Committee, and in early March he presented it to the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.

On January 28, the House Higher Education Committee invited students and faculty from Minnesota’s higher education institutions to testify on their session priorities. From the University, Minnesota Student Association president Joelle Stangler and Twin Cities Advocacy Corps director Ryan Olson testified in support of President Kaler’s proposed budget, particularly emphasizing the importance of the tuition freeze. Faculty legislative liaisons Dr. Lyn Bearinger and Gary Gardner also testified in support of the University’s budget request.

Also in late January, Dr. Brooks Jackson, dean of the Medical School and vice president for health sciences, testified before the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee on the Academic Health Center, the Healthy Minnesota budget request, and the Blue Ribbon Commission recommendations. Janice Jaguszewski, director of the health sciences library, closed the hearing by presenting on the Minnesota Electronic Library provision in the Healthy Minnesota request.

Recommendations from the governor, House, and Senate

In January, Governor Mark Dayton released his initial budget proposal for the 2016-17 biennium. The $42 billion proposal, which included a projected $1 billion surplus, prioritized education, particularly preK-12. The proposal included $32.6 million for University tuition relief and $30 million for the Medical School. After the February forecast, Governor Dayton released a revised proposal that fully funded University’s tuition freeze at $65.2 million, in addition to the $30 million for the Medical School, representing a $32.6 million increase from his initial proposal.

In March, the House and Senate released their higher education spending targets. The Senate proposed to add $205 million in spending, and the House $53.4 million, while the governor had proposed $288.4 million.

In April, both the House and Senate passed their versions of the higher education omnibus bill. The House bill provided zero funding for the University of Minnesota’s requested budget items. It included $2.9 million for unrequested education programs and capital projects on the Crookston and Morris campuses. The Senate bill provided $60 million for tuition relief and $25 million for the Medical School. The bill tied performance goals to portions of this funding and also provided an unrequested $2 million for the University of Minnesota and Mayo Foundation Partnership to award grants for Alzheimer’s and dementia research.


As the calendar turned to May, the higher education committee was waiting for leadership to release revised spending targets. Governor Dayton, House Speaker Daudt, and Senate Majority Leader Bakk agreed to $166 million in increased higher education funding, including $30 million for the Medical School.

In the higher education conference committee, the Senate and House conferees agreed to appropriate the University $22.2 million for tuition relief and $30 million for the Medical School. No funding was provided for the Facility Condition Improvement Strategy, Healthy Minnesota, or Vibrant Communities request items. However, $1 million in new funding was provided for Alzheimer’s and dementia research. The bill was signed into law by Governor Dayton on May 22, 2015.

View a comparison of proposals this session for University budget funding.

Capital request

The 2015 University of Minnesota’s capital request included three projects: $55 million for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR), $18 million for the Veterinary Isolation Laboratories, and $4 million for the St. Paul Greenhouse Replacement.

University presentations

In January, Vice President for University Services Pam Wheelock presented the University’s capital request to the House Capital Investment Committee. House members watched a short video showcasing the three projects, followed by a detailed presentation.

College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Trevor Ames testified several times in April in support of funding for the Veterinary Isolation Laboratories and the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory.

Recommendations from the governor, House, and Senate

In April, Governor Dayton released his capital investment recommendations. The governor’s $842 million proposal included $92 million for the University’s requested projects: $70 million for HEAPR, $18 million for the Veterinary Isolation Laboratories, and $4 million for the St. Paul Greenhouse. His recommendations also included $8 million for planning and pre-design studies for health sciences professional educational facilities to replace antiquated training facilities, and new clinical research facilities to house medical discovery teams.

For most of the regular legislative session, it was uncertain whether the House and Senate would pass their own bonding bills. However, on May 16, two days before the constitutionally mandated end of session, the House passed a $98 million bonding bill. The bill included $8.5 million for the University’s Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar, but excluded funding for the University’s other requested projects. The Senate amended the House bill, adding $107 million in funding for non-University projects and keeping funding for the Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory.


The House adjourned before voting on the Senate’s version of the bill, meaning no capital investment bill was passed during the regular session. However, during the one-day special session in June, the Legislature passed a $180 million bonding bill. The governor signed the bill on June 13. The University received $26.5 million for two avian flu-related projects. The Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory in Willmar received $8.5 million, and the Veterinary Isolation Laboratories on the St. Paul campus received $18 million.

Other hearings

University officials were asked to testify on a variety of additional University-related subjects this session including:

  • An update on MnDRIVE
  • An update on human resources related to the Sibson and Huron reports
  • Achievement of all five performance measures passed by the Legislature in 2013
  • Human subjects research standards
  • Enrollment trends


Legislative Action Kickoff

On February 3, nearly 200 students, faculty, alumni, and staff gathered for the 2015 Legislative Action Kickoff (formerly the Legislative Briefing) to learn about the University’s budget request and how to advocate for the University at the State Capitol. During the pre-program reception, attendees visited with students and faculty directly affected by the four budget request areas. President Kaler addressed the crowd along with Minnesota Student Association president Joelle Stangler. Attendees generated over 100 postcards addressed to their legislators, asking for their support during the legislative session.

Support the U Day

Over 200 students from all five campuses rallied at Coffman Union on February 12 as part of Support the U Day. Afterward the students participated in over 100 meetings with legislators at the State Capitol, double the number of meetings from last year. Students encouraged legislators to support the University’s budget request, particularly the proposed two-year tuition freeze.

Legislative Action Network

The University's group of legislative advocates remains strong with a total of 19,510 members. The group comprises alumni, faculty, staff, students, and community members who engage with their elected officials through the Legislative Action Network website or have attended events, shared their stories showcasing their U support, written letters to elected officials, or participated in other advocacy efforts.


Five calls-to-action were issued via email to the Legislative Action Network during the 2015 legislative session. Network members were encouraged to contact their elected officials in support of the University's legislative priorities. These calls-to-action generated a total of 1,065 electronic messages to elected officials. In addition, a postcard writing campaign was executed across the University system in coordination with the calls-to-action. This campaign generated a total of 954 handwritten messages to legislators.


This session, the Office of Government and Community Relations heavily utilized its Twitter handle @UMNGovRelations to promote the University’s biennial budget request, inform the public about the U’s government relations news, and engage with legislators, students, employees, and alumni. A total of 80 tweets were sent, which facilitated public interaction from lawmakers, student leaders, and other stakeholders. In addition, six infographics underscored the value the University brings to Minnesota and attracted the attention of media and legislators.

State Relations Updates

During the 2015 regular session and special session, Government Relations released 18 State Relations Updates via email. These updates were designed to engage University Staff and Faculty in the legislative process and provide details of the status of key legislation concerning the University. The updates were also posted on the Office of Government and Community Relations website.

Legislator and legislative staff meetings and events

Eastcliff receptions

In February and March, President Kaler hosted several evening receptions at Eastcliff for members of the House and Senate Higher Education Committees, House and Senate health and human services committees, House and Senate capital investment committees, and House and Senate agriculture committees. At each reception, the president reinforced the importance of the University’s legislative request.

Evening of Discovery

In late February, the University hosted an Evening of Discovery, an event for legislators showcasing the research of the Academic Health Center. Students and researchers from the six schools of the AHC and MnDRIVE's Brain Conditions and Regenerative Medicine initiative discussed their work with legislators and underlined its value for the State of Minnesota. Dr. Brooks Jackson concluded the event by requesting the legislators’ support for the University’s 2015 legislative request.

Legislative Staff Day

In September, the Government Relations team hosted 40 federal and state legislative staffers for a full day on the Twin Cities campus to learn about teaching and research innovations. During the first half of the day, legislative staff toured the Medical Devices Center, the Visible Heart Lab, and the Academic Health Center Simulation Center. After lunch, One Stop staff presented on the services they provide students regarding registration, financial aid, billing, payment, student records, and veterans benefits. Then legislative staff learned about interactive learning and toured the active classrooms in Bruininks Hall. The day capped off with a tour of TCF Bank Stadium and a visit from Goldy.

Regent elections

On Wednesday, March 4, a joint convention of the Legislature met to elect five members of the Board of Regents. Current Regents Richard Beeson (4th congressional district) and Patricia Simmons (1st congressional district) were re-elected, along with Darrin Rosha (3rd congressional district), who previously served on the board as a student representative. Michael Hsu (6th congressional district) and Thomas Anderson (7th congressional district) were elected for the first time.

Fiscal notes

Fiscal notes are requested by legislators to help them understand the fiscal implications of legislation. A fiscal note estimates the costs, savings, revenue gain, or loss resulting from the implementation of proposed legislation. Throughout the 2015 legislative session, a total of 31 fiscal notes were requested of the University.

Mandated reports

Each year, the Legislature mandates reports and studies from different government and public agencies, oftentimes tied to state appropriations. The University has submitted six mandated reports so far this year. View the 2015 mandated reports.


Representative Ryan Winkler announced his retirement in May. He served five terms, representing parts of Golden Valley, Plymouth, and St. Louis Park, and was a member of the House Higher Education Policy and Finance Committee. Governor Dayton has called for a special election on November 3, 2015.

Legislation summaries

2015 higher education omnibus bill

The higher education omnibus bill appropriates approximately $1.25 billion to the University of Minnesota for FY16-17, and includes several policy provisions that will impact the University.

Operations and maintenance - base funding
The law provides approximately $1.1 billion to the University of Minnesota in FY16-17 for operations and maintenance. And 5 percent of this funding is contingent on the number of performance goals the University meets. If the U meets three, four, or five of the goals, then it will receive all of the funding. If the University meets zero, one, or two of the goals, it will receive 0, 33, or 67 percent of the funding, respectively. The performance goals are as follows:

  1. Increase by at least 1 percent the four-year, five-year, or six-year undergraduate graduation rates, averaged over three years, for students of color systemwide at the U of M reported in fall 2016 over fall 2014.
  2. Increase by at least 2 percent the total number of undergraduate STEM degrees, averaged over three years, conferred systemwide by the U of M reported in fiscal year 2016 over fiscal year 2014.
  3. Increase by at least 1 percent the four-year undergraduate graduation rate at the University of Minnesota reported in fall 2016 over fall 2014.
  4. For fiscal year 2016, reallocate $15 million of administrative costs; the U is requested to reallocate this money toward mission activities, stemming the cost of attendance and programs that benefit students.
  5. Increase licensing disclosures by 3 percent for fiscal year 2016 over fiscal year 2015.

By August 1, 2015, the Board of Regents and the Office of Higher Education must agree on specific numerical indicators and definitions for each of the five goals that will be used to measure the U’s success in meeting these performance goals. On or before April 1, 2016, the Board of Regents must report to the higher education committees the progress of the University of Minnesota toward meeting the goals.

Tuition relief - new funding
Of the operations and maintenance appropriations, $11.1 million in FY16 and $11.1 million in FY17 is provided to the University of Minnesota for tuition relief. This amounts to approximately one-third of the University’s $65.2 million request to fund a full tuition freeze.

Medical School - new funding

The operations and maintenance appropriations also provide $15 million in FY16 and $15 million in FY17 to the University of Minnesota Medical School to increase research capacity and rankings, develop new cures and treatments, provide physician training for rural and underserved communities, and attract and retain top faculty, staff, and students.

Primary Care Education Initiatives - base funding
The law appropriates approximately $2.16 million in FY16 and $2.16 million in FY17 to primary care education initiatives at the University of Minnesota.

Agriculture and Extension Services - base funding
The law appropriates approximately $42.9 million in FY16 and $42.9 million in FY17 to the University of Minnesota Agriculture and Extension Services. This includes funding for agricultural advisory groups focused on research and transfer strategies to benefit producers; research and outreach on renewable energy from Minnesota biomass resources; agricultural and food systems projects at the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences; and research on the needs of Minnesota’s agricultural community. By February 1, 2017, the Board of Regents must submit outcome reports of these initiatives and projects to the agriculture and higher education committees.

Health Sciences - base funding
The law appropriates $9.2 million in FY16 and $9.2 million in FY17 to health sciences efforts at the University. Of this funding, $692,000 is dedicated to supporting up to 12 resident physicians in the St. Cloud Hospital family practice residency program, and the remainder is for the rural physicians associates program, the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, health sciences research, dental care, the Biomedical Engineering Center, and the collaborative partnership between the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic for regenerative medicine, research, clinical translation, and commercialization. 

College of Science and Engineering - base funding
The law provides approximately $2.28 million to the University's College of Science and Engineering to fund the geological survey and the talented young mathematicians program. This maintains the current state funding level for these programs.

System Special - base funding
The law contains a $10.36 million system special appropriation over FY16-17 for general research, the Labor Education Service, the National Resources Research Institute, the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, the Bell Museum of Natural History, and the Humphrey exhibit.

University of Minnesota and Mayo Foundation Partnership - base and new funding
The law appropriates just less than $16 million for the biennium for the partnership between the University and the Mayo Foundation for research in medical genomics and biotechnology, and the partnership must submit an annual report of how the appropriation is used by June 30 of each fiscal year. Of this funding, $1 million must be awarded for competitive grants to conduct research into the prevention, treatment, causes, and cures of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias.

Academic Health Center - base funding
The law determines the share the Academic Health Center will receive of revenue generated from tobacco taxes. The share is estimated at $22.25 million each year.

TCF Stadium Refinance
The law authorizes the refinancing of the TCF Stadium bonds and specifies terms that must be met in the refinancing process, including that the Board of Regents allocate sufficient funds from the savings realized through the refunding of the bonds to provide $10 million for predesign and design of improved health education and clinical research facilities to meet the needs of the Medical School and Academic Health Center. The education and research facilities will be collocated and designed to maximize collaboration and high-quality delivery of health care. The board may, in its discretion, after the $10 million allocation required, allocate to other University purposes payments from the state that exceed the amount necessary to service the refunded bonds.

State grant program
The new law appropriates over $360 million for the Office of Higher Education program over the biennium. The law reduces the assigned family responsibility for dependent students from 96 percent of the parental contribution to 95 percent of the parental contribution; for independent students with dependents other than a spouse, the assigned family responsibility is reduced from 86 percent to 70 percent of the student contribution; and for independent students without dependents other than a spouse, the assigned family responsibility is reduced from 50 percent to 34 percent of the student contribution. The law specifies that the tuition maximum is $13,626 each fiscal year for students in four-year programs, and $5,808 each fiscal year for students in two-year programs. The living and miscellaneous expense allowance is set at $8,828 for FY16 and $8,904 for FY17.

Institutional reporting to the Office of Higher Education
The law clarifies reporting requirements for institutions receiving financial aid.
It also directs the Office of Higher Education to place the information on a prominent link on its website homepage and provide an electronic copy of the information to each public and private high school in Minnesota and each workforce center operated by DEED.

Study Abroad Program Policy
The law clarifies the study abroad program policy to require more reporting information and prohibit postsecondary institutions from mandating hospitalization and incident disclosures from students.

Concurrent Enrollment
The law mandates that postsecondary institutions, including the University of Minnesota, that offer courses taught by secondary teachers and are members in the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships report all required NACEP evaluative survey results by September 1 of each year to the commissioners of the Office of Higher Education and the Department of Education. The law establishes a Concurrent Enrollment Advisory Board and specifies membership. The commissioners will then report to the early education through grade 12 legislative committees by December 1 of each year.

Campus Sexual Assault
The law modifies the sexual harassment and violence policy and creates additional requirements for postsecondary institutions when responding to sexual harassment, violence, and assault on campus. The law requires additional victims’ rights, uniform amnesty, coordination with local law enforcement, comprehensive training, an online reporting system, data collection, an audit trail, and reporting.

Teacher Shortage Loan Forgiveness Program
The law includes a student loan forgiveness plan for licensed teachers working in a teaching shortage area as defined by the commissioner of education. The Office of Higher Education will administer this program, handle applications, and award loan forgiveness up to $1,000 per approved applicant.

Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury
The law establishes and funds a spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury research grant program through the Office of Higher Education. A representative from the University of Minnesota will serve on the program’s advisory council.

Research Cats and Dogs
This provision repeals the sunset date on the law requiring 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.

Summer Academic Enrichment Program
The law establishes a summer academic enrichment stipend program to enable elementary and secondary students to attend academic summer programs sponsored by postsecondary institutions, like the University of Minnesota, and other nonprofit organizations.

Mandated reports

The law asks the University to submit several additional reports:

  • College Completion: The law requests the University to develop a comprehensive plan to encourage students to complete degrees, diplomas, or certificates in their fields of study. A report describing the plan must be submitted no later than January 15, 2016.
  • Human Subjects Research Standards: The law requires the University to submit monthly reports, starting July 1, 2015, on the progress in developing and implementing a plan to conduct human subjects research at the University. The reports must continue until the plan has been fully implemented.
  • University of Minnesota Budget Allocation Report: The law requires the University to report by February 1, 2016, on the factors it considers to allocate funds to separate campuses and address the issue of whether non-Twin Cities campuses are treated as single units for budget allocation purposes or treated as composed of multiple units.

Capital investment

The bill appropriates $26.5 million to the University of Minnesota to fund two projects:

  • Veterinary Isolation Laboratories - $18 million
  • Minnesota Poultry Testing Laboratory - $8.5 million

Health and human services

The health and human services bill includes funding for the following University-related items over the biennium:

  • Dental reimbursement rate increase - $8 million
  • Telemedicine services - $344,000
  • Primary care residency - $5 million ongoing
  • Health professionals loan forgiveness program - $5.3 million ongoing
  • Medication therapy management - $41,000 in savings
  • Mental health programs
    • $5.3 million for behavioral health homes
    • $1 million for “text for life”
    • $260,000 for First Episode programs
    • $8.57 million for crisis services
    • $5.547 million to stabilize mental health intensive services
    • $6.616 million for Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities (PRTFs) for adolescents
    • $3.15 million for complex needs
    • Increase county share at Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Facility
    • 2 percent rate increase for chemical dependency providers
    • Non-emergency medical transportation funding, including some funding for protective transportation
    • $449,000 for suicide prevention

Health Professionals Loan Forgiveness Program
This provision added advanced dental therapist, dental therapist, mental health professional, and public health nurse to the current eligible professions. Under current law, for an individual to be eligible for loan forgiveness, he or she must live in a designated rural area that is outside the seven-county metro area. This bill also added that people practicing in the cities of Duluth, Mankato, Moorhead, Rochester, and St. Cloud are excluded from the program.

Dental reimbursement rate increase
While the dental reimbursement rates were increased by 5 percent, that increase is for dentists outside the seven-county metro area. The increase does not apply to state-operated dental clinics, FQHC’s, rural health centers, or Indian health services.

Primary care residency expansion grant
This provision establishes a grant program in the Department of Health to expand grants to eligible primary care residency programs to plan and implement new residency slots. A planning grant shall not exceed $75,000, and a training grant shall not exceed $150,000 per new residency slot for the first year, $100,000 for the second year, and $50,000 for the third year of the new residency slot. An eligible primary care residency program means a program that is located in Minnesota; trains medical residents in the specialties of family medicine, general internal medicine, general pediatrics, psychiatry, geriatrics, or general surgery; and is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education or presents a credible plan to obtain accreditation.

Health plans will be required to pay for services on the same basis and at the same rate regardless of whether they are delivered via telemedicine or on an in-person basis. MA will also be required to cover an expanded list of providers who are now allowed to bill for services provided via telemedicine. The provision requiring an originating site fee for health care providers was deleted from the bill, which allowed for the reduced cost.

Agriculture, environment, and natural resources

The agriculture bill includes almost $13 million for agriculture research and education over the biennium, including:

  • $1.2 million for the rapid response fund
  • $2 million for avian flu research
  • $4 million for farm business management

The remaining funds are to be used by the University for agriculture research.


The legacy bill funds the following four University of Minnesota projects and initiatives:

  • Storm water management practice - $550,000
  • Forever Green Agriculture Initiative - $1,000,000
  • Regional Irrigation Water Quality Specialist - $220,000
  • Center for Changing Landscapes Legacy Tracking Project - $260,000

Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources

The Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) bill appropriations money primarily from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Roughly $13.5 million of the $46.4 million bill will fund the following University of Minnesota projects:

  • County geologic atlases - $2,040,000
  • Minnesota biodiversity atlas for enhanced natural resource management - $340,000
  • Minnesota native bee atlas - $790,000
  • Genetic and camera techniques to estimate carnivore populations - $200,000
  • Effects of grazing versus fire for prairie management - $414,000
  • Foundational dataset characterizing historic disturbance impacts - $200,000
  • Hydrologic effects of contemporary forest practices in Minnesota - $150,000
  • Understanding water scarcity, threats, and values to improve management - $234,000
  • Biofilm technology for water nutrient removal - $281,000
  • Preventing phosphorus from entering water resources through drain tiles - $505,000
  • Mississippi River water journey camps - $25,000
  • Minnesota invasive terrestrial plants and pests center - $5,000,000
  • Emerald Ash Borer ecological and hydrological impacts - phase II - $400,000
  • Biological control of Canada thistle - $300,000
  • Preventing new disease of pines in Minnesota - $371,000
  • Renewable and sustainable fertilizers produced locally - $1,000,000
  • Reducing emissions from open burning through biomass gasification - $268,000
  • Building deconstruction to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste - $155,000
  • Preserving and protecting Minnesota native orchid species - $167,000
  • Conservation easement assessment and valuation system development - $250,000
  • Prioritizing future management of North Shore trout streams - $416,000

E-12 education

This bill provides $300,000 for the Minnesota Principals’ Academy, a program administered by the College of Education and Human Development.

Additional legislation

For links to all 20 bills that may impact the University, please visit the Office of Government and Community Relations website.

View all of the State Relations Updates from the 2015 Minnesota Legislative Session.