This Week in Richmond

Posted: February 2, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

This weekly column, written by Thomas Hennessey, chief of staff to President Alan Merten, is published to keep the university community informed on the legislative situation in Richmond and how those developments directly affect George Mason.

In truth, it has been going on for more than two weeks, but this session of the Virginia General Assembly has been so fast-paced the weeks are flying by. From the opening on Jan. 12 until Feb. 26, legislators have been asked to consider more than 3,000 pieces of individual legislation in the 45 days of the “short” session. Mindful that 2005 is also an election year, legislators are attempting to make the most of this General Assembly.

For George Mason University, as always, the final budget bill determines whether this was a “good” session or a “great” session. Appropriators reviewed budget amendments on Monday and expect to have the final amendment list ready on Saturday, Feb. 5. How many of the more than 20 amendments submitted by George Mason have been accepted is a key indicator of the potential success of the session. Those of major importance to the university are additional funds for student financial aid and salary increases for faculty and staff.

Among the many major pieces of legislation being considered are companion bills, HB 2866 (sponsored by Del. Vince Callahan) and SB 1327 (sponsored by Sen. Tommy Norment). These bills provide some immediate relief for higher education in the areas of procurement and capital management. More importantly, the legislation provides a process by which any institution of higher education can obtain further autonomy and relief from central government control and micromanagement. For those who followed the controversy over the “charter concept” proposed by three universities in 2004, the bills are the evolution of major review by all public colleges and universities in the commonwealth, and the term “charter” has been dropped from any discussion.

Crossover, the day that all proposed legislation must be acted upon and passed to the other house, is Feb. 8. Final budget negotiations must be completed by Feb. 22. The negotiated final budget bill will be considered by both houses on Feb. 25 and 26.

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