Voters will be asked to allow college boards to set tuition rates _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- State Sen. Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Jennings, testified Monday against applying restrictions to environmental cleanup litigation to previously filed legacy lawsuits. His efforts failed.

Louisiana voters will be asked in a statewide vote to allow the higher education governing boards — instead of legislators — set tuition at the state’s colleges and universities.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, said all the House did in changing his Senate Bill 80 was to name the four boards that oversee the public institutions. Though Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, wondered if by naming the boards could lead to problems in the future should new boards be formed or the names changed, Morrish said he was OK with the wording changes.

The Senate went along on a vote of 36-1 with Shreveport Democratic Sen. John Milkovich casting the sole “no” ballot.

It was the final legislative hurdle for the bill, which will now be added to the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.

It’s a shift from previous years when such tuition autonomy bills were routinely shot down. Louisiana is one of the last few states where legislators decide how much to charge students in public colleges and universities — and the only one that requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. It’s one of the reasons why Louisiana has some of the lowest tuition costs in the nation.

Higher education leaders have long argued that they should set the rates and would be regulated by competition from setting the costs too high. Their supporters endorsed their position saying that state government has failed to properly fund higher education, which has been cut by more than half over the past eight years.

Opponents countered that during the same time period tuitions rose higher than ever before and the potential for even higher tuitions could have a detrimental impact on students who are footing the bill.

If a majority of voters approve the change, tuition authority would be set by the schools and approved by the four system boards of supervisors: LSU system; Southern University system; the Louisiana Community and Technical College System; and the University of Louisiana system, which includes the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Southeastern Louisiana University, Louisiana Tech and the University of New Orleans.

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter @MarkBallardCNB.

For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/