RTD: One senator sees conflict as bills addressing higher-ed cost are thwarted

By KARIN KAPSIDELIS

A state senator spoke out Tuesday against what he said is “an obvious conflict of interest” as legislation intended to address the cost of higher education continues to stall in the General Assembly.

Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax City, objected when the Senate higher education subcommittee advanced a bill to the full committee with the understanding it then would be referred to the Senate Finance Committee, where a half-dozen other proposals related to tuition charges have died.

The Finance Committee is co-chaired by Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., a Republican from James City County who is on the faculty of the College of William & Mary.

“That’s an obvious conflict of interest if you have someone who’s an employee of an institution who is going to sit in judgment on all these tuition bills,” Petersen said after the meeting.

Norment did not return a call seeking comment.

. . .

“I don’t know why it’s going to Finance,” Petersen objected when the panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, said the bill was headed to the Finance Committee.

“Well, it’s going to Finance when you start messing around with out-of-state numbers,” responded Saslaw, who said the General Assembly did not need to “micromanage” universities.

Saslaw also is a member of the Finance Committee, which last month tabled proposals that were intended to put limits on tuition and on the autonomy of governing boards. Among them was a proposal by Petersen (SB1379) that would have required a portion of budget surpluses to be used to reduce in-state tuition.

. . .

“We haven’t had a single, substantive bill on tuition reform come to the floor — not one,” Petersen said. “Every single one goes to Senate Finance, and it dies.”

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