JEFFERSON CITY — “Embarrassing,” “ridiculous” and “appalling” were just three of many words Democrats used to voice their opposition Wednesday before the Senate overwhelmingly gave final passage to the plan to sell off some of the assets of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority.
The bill passed with a vote of 23-11, with every Republican voting yes except Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, and with all but three Democrats voting no. The exceptions were Sens. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Springs, Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, and Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis.
Coleman, the Senate minority leader, has continuously voiced her disapproval of Sen. Gary Nodler’s higher education bill that includes the MOHELA plan. Last week she said the “Senate is dead” because of the political maneuvers that have been used to pass this bill.
However, the bill’s so-called “emergency clause” did not receive the required two-thirds vote for passage. It garnered a vote of 20-13 with every Democrat and Bartle voting no. As a result, House Bill 16, the bill listing buildings to be funded by MOHELA assets, will expire before funds can be distributed.
However, Nodler, R-Joplin, said he is not worried because Wednesday the Senate Appropriations Committee passed a re-appropriations bill that includes the building list and doesn’t expire until June 2009.
Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, said he might have filibustered this bill a third time if he did not think it would have caused more harm.
“I’m going to let it go,” Graham said, “and send this piece of crap to the House and pray that they have more sense than this body.”
Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, called the legislation “a big pork buffet.”
“It’s sad to me that the money that our constituents have paid in a private relationship with a board are now being taken over by the state,” Bray said, adding that other boards might be at risk of some “greedy legislator” taking their assets.
Nodler countered that education leaders have called his bill “the most important piece of higher education legislation in two decades.”
The bill gives more power to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education, creates a new scholarship fund and prohibits a Missouri university from turning away potential political science professors who do not have a post-graduate degree as long as they have spent eight years in the General Assembly.
The bill also creates the “Missouri Teaching Fellows Program,” which would offer loan forgiveness to new graduates with education degrees who agree to teach in an unaccredited rural or urban school for four years.
The creator of the program, Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, has said that this will help bring bright minds and new ideas into failing schools. Smith also authored a change to the bill that expands eligibility for Bright Flight scholarships from the top 3 percent of graduating seniors to the top 5 percent.
The House must approve the bill before it goes to the governor for final approval to become law. There are three weeks left in the session.