July 7, 2006
From: Robert Brown
Vice Chancellor for Governmental, Community and Diversity Affairs
Now that the dust from the session is fully settling we can begin to see what the true results were. On the whole, it wasn’t a disaster of a session, certainly not as bad as so many of us feared while suffering through the post-Katrina confusion and mismanagement, the hubbub of a New Orleans mayoral election and, last but not least, the daily struggle of trying to rebuild lives, homes and neighborhoods. In fact, the huge windfall of sales, gambling and oil and gas taxes made for happy times in the Capitol—boatloads of money for legislators to appropriate and no shortage of state agencies, municipalities, parish governments and other public entities (along with a host of special “projects and programs”) delighted to scarf up every dollar thrown their way. And, in fairness, there were responsible measures taken with some of the new-found cash. For example, $430M was set aside to pay the state portion of FEMA disaster relief and $169M was earmarked for future hurricane evacuation costs. And, of course, a much-needed and welcome pay raise was passed for K-12 teachers and college faculty. (I had mentioned some of the other higher ed-related appropriations in my June 23rd LEGISWATCH.)
There was also finally some progress on reforms in New Orleans city government, namely consolidation of the assessors and a modified consolidation of the court system. One hurdle remains for the assessors legislation—a constitutional amendment which will be submitted to the voters for approval.
One of the more important bills for higher ed was triggered by the unfortunate deaths of two ULL students, and the illness of a Loyola student, from meningococcal disease (meningitis). Representative Mike Strain of Covington sponsored legislation requiring immunization of all college students in Louisiana—at public and private institutions alike, as a condition of registration. In addition, each institution must provide detailed information on the risks from infection and the availability and effectiveness of recommended vaccines. In the absence of proof of immunization, students (or the parents or guardians of minors) would be required to sign a waiver. Here are the rubs. First, there are not nearly enough doses of the most common vaccine to cover all college-going students in Louisiana (about 30,000 doses versus nearly 270,000 students). Second, we face a huge challenge in devising a fool-proof system for insuring that the students have received (and presumably read) the information. And third, students will scream to the heavens when they discover that the shot (if and when available) costs upwards of 100 dollars. UNO’s student health services and IT teams are working with the Board of Regents, the Office of Public Health and health service professionals at other universities to develop a plan that works.
And, finally, on a somewhat related note, we are beginning to move forward again on our new student housing project. Later this month we are going before the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget for approval of a Cooperative Endeavor between the LSU Board of Supervisors and the UNO R & T Foundation that will lead to the construction of a new housing complex between Franklin High School and the HPC. The two buildings will provide 749 additional beds for UNO students, along with a pleasing array of amenities. There could not be a more welcome addition to our campus. More on that as time goes along.
NOTE: I will be inviting other university leaders to take turns as guest columnists in LEGISWATCH. Watch for their by-lines.