Blunt signs SB 389

Alexandra Nicolas

After more than a decade, Missouri Southern is one step closer to a health sciences building.With months of debate and revision behind it, SB 389 was signed by Gov. Matt Blunt today in a ceremony in the Billingsly Student Center. The bill includes $18.9 million for the building, which has been in limbo pending funding.”We have been waiting for 10 years,” said University President Julio León about the building.”I think the spring semester of ’08, if the funding comes through, we are prepared to break ground,” said Dr. Terri Agee, vice president for business affairs.SB 389 also will increase funding for scholarships, tie tuition to the rate of inflation and provide $335 million in capital improvement funding for public and private institutions. Included in the measure is a provision to combine multiple existing state scholarships into the Access Missouri program. León and lawmakers said Southern students eligible for state-granted financial aid will see a four-fold increase. “I’m just excited for future students to have the opportunity,” said Tiffanie Knight, senior nursing major.Restrictions on raising tuition have also been implemented to ensure tuition hikes do not exceed inflation rates.”I think this puts a burden on the state to provide those resources,” Blunt said.In addition to the formal signing of the bill, Blunt also gave praise to Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) for his persistent support as the bill’s sponsor.”Gary Nodler got in there and did his life support and resuscitated the bill,” Blunt said. Nodler pushed for the bill despite opposition and sometimes lengthy debate. At one point, the Senate spent 24 hours debating the measure.”I believe this is one of, if not the most important higher education bill in our state’s history,” he said.Blunt and Nodler also made an effort to clarify what they feel may be public misconceptions about the bill.”MOHELA is not a organization that makes student loans,” Nodler said. “No Missouri loans, none, have been sold.”However, not all Missourians support SB 389. Attorney General Jay Nixon, who has opposed the bill from the beginning, wrote Blunt a letter urging him to veto the bill. Nixon believes MOHELA provisions in the bill will not yield the best long-term results. He also opposes one provision requiring colleges and universities not to reject former General Assembly members for teaching positions if they lack a graduate degree.”Surely such a cynical and self-serving provision cannot be squared with Missouri’s goal of creating and maintaining world-class institutions,” Nixon wrote. It is unclear if Nixon plans to take further action. With Blunt’s signature on SB 389, Southern students may begin to see the benefits as early as 2007-2008 academic year.”It will ensure Missouri students have world-class facilities to better reach their full potential,” Blunt said. “The real winners here are the students.”