It takes two years, but the legislature has approved one of Governor Blunt’s top priorities. The House has approved, without revision, the Senate’s version of the MOHELA bill on a 91-to-64 vote.
Strong partisan rhetoric, some harsh, punctuate House debate on the measure that would use the sale of assets from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority to fund $350 million in capital improvements on college campuses throughout the state. Democrats have been very critical of Republicans, claiming the majority party abused its power to push the bill through the Senate through the unusual move of cutting off debate and then limited debate to two hours in the House.
House sponsor Carl Bearden (R-St. Charles) made no secret of the fact that he didn’t want any amendments accepted on SS#6 SCS SB 389 . Any changes in the bill would have sent it back to the Senate. Bearden succeeded in fending off any changes, easily defeating a handful of amendments sponsored by Democrats. The Republican unity in the House paved the way for the bill to move to the governor.
Bearden points out the bill isn’t just a capital improvement bill. It contains scholarships fro college students and places restrictions on tuition increases.
Rep. Clint Zweifel (D-Florissant) has been a vocal critic of the bill. Zweifel criticizes the governor for pushing the bill without giving enough information about the plan. He says the governor failed to lay a good foundation upon which to make a good decision. Zweifel says the bill will undercut the ability of MOHELA to provide low-interest loans to students and sets a bad precedent. He says future legislatures will go back to the student loan agency to get money for pet projects.
A deal last year fell apart at the end of the session. The bill ran into unexpected opposition this year, when pro-life legislators worried that money generated from the MOHELA sale would fund embryonic stem cell research. The governor agreed to strip life science funding from the bill, gaining more than enough votes to win approval.