House: Credit cards, criminal records and buying American

With colleges and universities facing tight financial times, Chairman Bud Nornes (R-Fergus Falls) figures they should crank out as much side revenue as they can -- such as from the student credit card market.

Today he put a bill before the House higher education committee that would allow public and private institutions to market credit cards to students by striking language in the statute that prohibits it. The bill wouldn't let colleges give contact information -- such as name, address and phone number -- to credit card companies, but could enter marketing arrangements to market the cards.

He told the committee:

"Students have the right to make financial decisions on their own, and they're already inundated with credit card offers. ... We should let universities have some of that income."

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Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) questioned whether small two-year institutions would gain all that much money, and Nornes said he had no figures on how much any institution would make.

Poppe cautioned that a lot of students aren't mature enough and lack the financial common sense to handle credit card debt:

"Some people find themselves in (financial straits). ... And people get a lot of credit card invitations. I don't know if they should have those invitations while they're in college ... because there's a lot of financial illiteracy."

Nornes also wanted to repeal statutes that:

  • require bookstores on public colleges and universities to offer, whenever possible, clothing made in the United States; and

  • force public employers (such as campuses in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and University of Minnesota systems) to buy -- or require employees to buy -- clothing or safety equipment made in this country. The statute Nornes wanted to strike also gives purchasing preference to manufacturers who pay their employees a certain minimum level of wages and benefits.

Nornes told the committee:

"The cost to public employers is quite substantial. In some cases, it nearly doubles the cost of items they purchase. We all like free trade and buy American when we can, but this is an area that we don’t have to go."

Democrats told him the latter statute concerning "public employers" might need to go through other committees, because it affects more than just higher education institutions.

Nornes ended up dropping an attempt to strike a statute requiring colleges and universities to warn students when they're accepted that a criminal record could prevent them from receiving financial aid or practicing in some professions.

He originally told the committee:

"This mandate seems very unnecessary. If you have a student, wouldn’t parents know (about the offense and damage to the student's future)?  I fully accept that students in college are mature, make decisions and think for themselves. And they have parents (to help them). I don’t see how this is an issue."

He caught a lot of flack from Democrats. They said many students and parents aren't aware of how a criminal record -- no matter how minor -- could hurt their chances, and warning could save them headaches at little or no cost to the state.

Rukavina said:

"You don’t want students to spend $20,000-30,000-40,000 to go into a (course of study) ... and then all of a sudden have them be told they can’t work in their field."

Nornes relented.