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Lawmakers drop proposal to change higher education structure

BISMARCK, N.D. - After a divisive hour-long debate, Senate lawmakers shot down a proposal this morning to allow voters to decide if they want to replace the State Board of Higher Education.

House Concurrent Resolution 3047 failed by a narrow 24-23 vote. The resolution proposed creating a new full-time three-person commission to oversee the state’s 11 public schools, rather than the current board that has eight part-time members.

Passage of the resolution would have put the proposal up for a statewide vote.

Those favoring the proposal said the higher education system has been broken and there is a constant power struggle between the State Board and legislative and executive branches of government.

Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, opposed the idea, arguing it is trying to fix something that is not entirely broken as the board and university system has many good things going for it now.

“The governance of any system is a challenge, this is not supposed to be easy. If it would be, we wouldn’t be talking about it today,” he said during floor discussion. “No matter what happens, we’ll be back criticizing that commission and will continue our struggles.”

Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, a co-sponsor of the resolution, said the historic tension the state board has had with the Legislature warrants the opportunity for voters to make the decision on a new higher education governance structure.

“It’s inherent in our responsibility as elected officials to have involvement in higher education,” he said. “I am convinced, across this state, campus officials, faculty and staff are very concerned about the here and now and it's our job to look forward with an option to give the voters an opportunity to voice their opinion.”

The vote can be reconsidered in the next 24 hours with a majority vote, much like the state Water Commission budget was reconsidered Wednesday.

By TJ Jerke

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