The House followed the state Senate’s lead Tuesday and passed legislation to block the state Board of Regents from closing a satellite community college campus in Meriden. The measure now heads to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk.
The legislation, which blocked the closure of the Meriden campus of Middlesex Community College, was raised last week by the Senate after Meriden lawmakers learned of the planned closure. The move was proposed to save $500,000 in response to Malloy’s proposed budget.
The actual language related to the Meriden campus was added as part of three amendments to another bill requiring the University of Connecticut the Regents to submit data to the Higher Education Committee on the availability of financial aid.
The House passed the bill in its entirety with an 86-56 vote. Those voting in favor included six Republican lawmakers who joined the Democratic majority. The Senate approved the legislation with an unanimous vote on April 8.
Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, said the amendments mean the Regents, who oversee the 12 community colleges and four state universities, won’t be able to close any of their campuses in the future without legislative approval.
Lawmakers were surprised to learn the Meriden campus, which houses the Middlesex Community College manufacturing program, was on the chopping block. There are 647 students enrolled there.
“It’s basically saying we want one more level of assurance that we are not going to see something like this occur at any of our campuses across Connecticut,” Willis said. “I see it as a preemptive strike.”
While Republicans were just as surprised as Democrats to learn of the plan to close the Meriden campus, some warned that giving the legislature the power to make decisions about future closures might not be wise.
Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, called it a “slippery slope” and said that as a legislative body he doesn’t believe they should be “micromanaging” the Board of Regents.
And even Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, who has sought to eliminate the Board of Regents in the past, is afraid the legislation leaves the Regents with too much ambiguity as to their role.
“I’m not sure it’s going to solve the problem,” Lavielle, who ended up voting against the measure, said.
It’s not clear whether Malloy supports the Regents decision or the legislature’s effort to salvage the campus.
“We will be reviewing the legislation for its effects on government functions and potential unintended consequences,” Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the governor, said.
He said Malloy supports the manufacturing program and the role the Meriden campus plays in the community.
‘The Governor believes that this instructional center is important for city of Meriden and the manufacturing lab is important for Connecticut’s manufacturing base,” Puglia said. “Obviously, the communication from Board of Regents and the college president to the legislature and for that matter, our office, was less than ideal.”