Overview: 2019 legislative session outcomes

At the Board of Regents meeting on March 29, 2019, the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education presented a report on the outcomes of the legislative session.

Budget

Beginning July 1, 2019, the Legislature approved a $96.1 million increase (9.4%) in ongoing tax funds and a one-time increase of $2.2 million (0.2%) for higher education. The items funded included:

  • $31.5 million Performance Based
  • $29.9 million to support a 2.5% salary and wage increase and a 4.35% increase for health insurance
  • $13 million Student Growth and Capacity
  • $7 million Workforce and Research
  • $6.3 million Internal Service and Operation and Maintenance
  • $4.7 million Affordable Access
  • $3.8 million for Timely Completion

Capital development

State-funded capital development projects: 

The Legislature appropriated $150 million to design and construct the top three Regent priorities for FY2020:

  • $50 million for the Dixie State University Science Building
  • $50 million for the Weber State University Noorda Engineering and Applied Science Building
  • $50 million for the Utah Valley University Business Building

The Legislature also appropriated close to $3 million ongoing for the operation and maintenance of these facilities. Prior to using the funds, the Legislature requires the institutions to develop a plan that will utilize the facilities in accordance with Regent classroom utilization standards and include efficiencies in the design of the buildings.

The Legislature also approved programming and design for the two fourth-ranked Regent priority projects: $2 million for Southern Utah University to program and design the Technology, Engineering, and Design building, and authorization for Salt Lake Community College to use donations and institutional funds to program and design the Herriman campus facility.

Additionally, two projects from the prior year incurred cost overruns for which the Legislature provided funding to cover the increased costs. Dixie State University received $4.4 million for the Human Performance Center and Snow College received $650,000 for the sports complex.

State-funded capital improvement projects:

State statute requires the Legislature to fund capital improvements at 1.1% of the replacement value of state buildings; however, for FY2020 the Legislature appropriated $138.3 million for capital improvements, which represents 1.2% of state replacement value. However, related to the legislative discussion of sales tax reform, the legislature removed $66 million of ongoing funds from the capital improvements appropriation, replacing it with onetime money for FY2020. USHE institutions historically receive between 55 to 60% of the capital improvement funding, which will be allocated by the State Building Board in April 2019.

Other-funds capital development projects:

The Legislature authorized the Board of Regents to issue $341.4 million of revenue bonds for the eight USHE institutional projects approved by the Regents in the November 2018 meeting.

The Legislature also authorized Utah State University to construct the Moab Academic Building and the IT Services Building using donations and institutional funds and appropriated ongoing operations and maintenance funding for the facilities. These projects were also previously approved by the Regents in the November 2018 meeting.

Legislative action

Along with the aforementioned legislation and actions, there were several other legislative proposals directly impacting Utah’s public colleges and universities. Altogether, over 70 pieces of legislation were identified as impacting higher education. The following is a short summary of bills with the greatest impact:

HB 45, Higher Education Credit Amendments by Rep. Val Peterson, requires the Board of Regents to establish a plan for statewide prior learning (awarding of credit for prior learning, work-based skills, competency-based assessment, etc.). This “framework” supports the Regents’ priority to validate and ensure current statute and policies related to transfer of credit are being followed. Some of the plan’s requirements include: institutional plans for advising and communicating with USHE students and the public about credit for prior learning, how credit for prior learning is transferred between institutions, how it is transcripted, and institutional procedures for maintaining transparency and consistency. Each institution will be required to report to the Board regarding the types of prior learning for which credit is provided and the total amount of credit for prior learning the institution awards.

HB 158, Higher Education Student Speech Rights by Rep. Kim Coleman, establishes a specific threshold that determines when student-on-student speech becomes harassment as opposed to protected speech. This legislation comes at the same time the US Department of Education is considering similar provisions in the coming months. Passage of this bill would have prematurely put schools in conflict with anticipated federal definitions of harassment. The Board of Regents opposed this legislation and it did not pass in the Senate.

HB 188, T.H. Bell Program Amendments by Rep. Lowry Snow, transitions the T.H. Bell Teaching Incentive Loan Program, first established in 1987, into a scholarship with a goal to increase the number of students entering education-related college programs. The Utah Council of Education Deans (comprised of deans who oversee teacher preparation programs in Utah’s colleges and universities) worked closely with Rep. Snow over the interim in developing this legislation.

HB 291, Concurrent Enrollment Modifications by Rep. Mike Winder, clarified legislation from the 2018 legislative session requiring the Board of Regents to establish policy, in coordination with higher education concurrent enrollment directors, that defines the qualifications to be an eligible concurrent enrollment instructor.

HB 346, Higher Education Responses to Allegations by Rep. Kim Coleman, outlines circumstances when an institution turns information over to law enforcement in instances considered an articulable and significant threat to campus safety. The bill also mandates that colleges offer amnesty from conduct-code violations for students, which USHE institutions already have in policy. The sponsor has worked during the interim with advocacy groups and USHE. The Board of Regents didn’t oppose the legislation and expressed support to the sponsor’s efforts in trying to address a critical component related to the overall campus safety issue.

HB 373, Student Support Amendments by Rep. Steve Eliason, is a sweeping school safety bill primarily focused on assisting K-12. Part of the bill removes the matching funds requirement for the adoption of the SafeUT mobile application by USHE institutions. All USHE institutions adopted the use of the SafeUT app as part of the Board of Regents’ recommendations on student mental health.

HB 260, Access Utah Promise Scholarship by Rep. Derrin Owens, creates a statewide scholarship program patterned after Dream Weber and SLCC Promise. These innovative programs, which pay the remaining college costs for qualifying students when federal grants fall short, are showing compelling results: Dream Weber students graduate college at significantly higher rates than non-Dream Weber students at Weber State University (73% to 44%, respectively). The scholarship would be available not only for students right out of high school but for adult learners as well at both USHE and UTECH institutions. It also limits the use of the Regents’ and New Century Scholarships, beginning in 2020, to USHE and UTECH institutions.

SB 134, Campus Safety Amendments by Sen. Jani Iwamoto, requires USHE and UTECH institutions to have campus safety plans with standardized components already defined in federal guidance. It also requires training curriculum for student organizations. It requires the Board of Regents to establish policy the further outlines the implementation and reporting on these plans.

SB 102, Higher Education Capital Facilities by Sen. Ann Millner, creates a capital development project fund for state colleges and universities and another for technical colleges. It also establishes criteria for project funding. Currently, colleges and universities submit building proposals to the Utah Board of Regents. The Regents prioritize the requests, and their list is proposed to the State Building Board, then to Legislature’s Infrastructure and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, and ultimately to the full legislature. The goal of the bill is to appropriate colleges and universities funding for cost-effective building planning and design, and while maintaining oversight for final approval of state-funded construction.

SB 164, Student Data Privacy Amendments by Sen. Jacob Anderegg, eliminates the requirement for individual parental consent for student information to be shared from K-12 schools to the Utah State Board of Regents for purposes of outreach and access. This barrier has led to significant challenges in student recruiting and outreach due to legislative action adopted three years ago.