Changes in legislature create new conversations

Hemmila

Hemmila

Sophie Hillmeyer

The election of a Democratic governor and a slimmer majority in the House and Senate for Republicans than previous years has initiated new conversations in the legislature about changes
for NMU.

Hemmila serves as the principal liaison with the Executive Office, Michigan legislature and elected officials and policymakers, Board and Government Relations Executive Director Deanna Hemmila said. Her role is to maintain communication with these officials to effectively support university programs and changes at NMU. Hemmila travels to Lansing frequently to maintain these relationships, she said.

A number of members in this new legislature are holding their first position in office, Hemmila said, and added how that prompts new discussions about the importance of knowledge of higher education and NMU.

Gov. Whitmer has had extensive experience in the state legislature and has put higher education as a high priority in the past, so the success of students should be placed high on her priority list, Hemmila said.

“It’s pretty early in the legislative process to have a complete understanding of how the change in leadership, both in the Executive Office and in the legislature, are going to affect higher education,” Hemmila said. “Once the governor presents her budget in early March, the legislature starts its work in the budget process.”

These legislative changes affect students through things such as tuition costs and NMU has made affordable tuition a top priority, Hemmila said.

“We educate new members on the importance of a college degree relative to the future success of today’s young people in their professional career,” Hemmila said. “We’ve been very fortunate that all our U.P. lawmakers, regardless of party, are strong advocates for higher education. They understand the important role it plays in the economy of Upper Michigan and statewide.”

NMU President Fritz Erickson will deliver his annual testimony to the House Appropriations subcommittee on Higher Education and Community Colleges on Thursday, Feb. 21, Hemmila said. She added that this gives NMU officials the opportunity to directly address the legislators who impact higher education budget discussions.

“With a large number of new legislators, many are not familiar, nor have visited our campus. We need to stress our priorities of access and affordability and the great hands-on education our students receive,” Hemmila said. “The state needs to continue to invest in higher education and it’s my job to make sure legislators know the value of that investment.”

Having first-time legislators in office brings new and innovative perspectives into office but also brings challenges when it comes to higher education and its funding, she said, noting that it is not an area of government many people have experience in.

“It’s important legislators who make decisions regarding higher education understand the operations of a university, the wide variety of issues facing today’s students and the importance of state investment in universities,” Hemmila said.

Gov. Whitmer is making her first official visit to the U.P. as the newly elected governor this weekend to enjoy the excitement of the UP 200 and will visit NMU, Hemmila said.

“We look forward to sharing with her all the exciting accomplishments NMU has seen in the past few years and finding ways we can collaborate and assist her administration with moving her goals forward,” she said.