RICHMOND, March 30 -- Gov. Mark R. Warner on Wednesday amended parts of a landmark measure passed by the General Assembly that grants Virginia's public colleges and universities more independence from government control.
The governor's changes were generally technical and leave the foundation of the legislation intact, administration officials said. But Warner (D) tightened the rules that colleges and universities must follow in exchange for being freed of many state regulations. He also changed language in the bill to give non-faculty workers the option of staying on the state payroll instead of becoming part of a new group of university-managed personnel.
"My amendments . . . focus particularly on personnel issues," Warner said in a statement. "We worked to make sure all employees are treated the same in areas like retirement and health insurance, and that existing employees have the choice as to whether to enter a new university personnel system."
Warner made a series of suggestions that also ensure that the state monitors how colleges acquire and lease space and that they hire women and minority-owned businesses.
"A number of the suggestions for improvements have come from legislators and the universities themselves," Warner said in an interview with reporters this week.
Although Warner and some lawmakers have hailed the new relationship between the state and its colleges as "sweeping" change, the measure will not immediately change much of how universities do business. Rather, the legislation is important because it opens the door for future independence.
University officials' initial reaction to Warner's changes was supportive.
"The major components that we've wanted in the act remain in the act," said William T. Walker, spokesman for the College of William and Mary. "We have a positive reaction to it."
Warner submitted the amendments Tuesday night. They were some of the last changes he made to the nearly 950 bills lawmakers passed this winter. Lawmakers will consider Warner's changes Wednesday during a one-day session of the General Assembly.
During the legislative session, lawmakers said the altered relationship between Virginia and the universities would save the state money by letting colleges become more efficient. At the same time, they pledged to hold universities accountable for fulfilling state goals, including affordable and accessible education, in exchange for less control.
The legislation, however, is a scaled-back version of the vision that three Virginia universities offered in the fall.
In other action Wednesday, Warner announced more than two-dozen amendments to the $63 million state budget passed last month by the General Assembly. Among those changes, Warner added about $5 million for economic development in the southwest part of the state.
Warner had proposed about $20 million for the initiative in the budget he introduced last year. Lawmakers subsequently took out those programs in their final budget. Warner, in a statement, said adding more money to the program would boost tourism in the region and increase job-training opportunities.
In addition, Warner increased funding for school breakfasts for poor children; added more than $300,000 to pay some insurance expenses for Virginia National Guard troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; and contributed $3 million to supplement salaries of some veteran state police officers and sheriffs.
"This will help law enforcement agencies maintain staffing levels and improve operational effectiveness," Warner said in a statement.