- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Assembly Republicans approved Gov. Scott Walker’s college affordability package early Wednesday despite Democrats’ warnings that the legislation does little to actually help students.

The bills include plans to lift the cap on tax-deductible student loan interest; boost grants for technical college and two-year students at University of Wisconsin Colleges to help them deal with emergencies; create internship coordinators; and require colleges to update students annually on how much debt they’ve accumulated.

Democrats ripped the bills, saying they equate to crumbs for struggling students and blasted Republicans for cutting the UW System by $250 million in the 2015-2017 state budget. They also pressed the GOP to pass their bill allowing students to refinance their debt at lower interest rates.

“What you have left our children in this state with after all this cutting and gutting of public education is a pile of manure,” said Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison. “What you’re doing tonight with all these bills is putting a cherry on top of it. But it still stinks.”

Republicans countered the Democrats’ refinancing proposal is rife with uncertainties, including eligibility requirements and actual interest rates. Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, questioned how serious Democrats really are about refinancing legislation.

“This will not be done this session, and I think it’s because someone carved out an issue they’d rather not compromise on so they can run (for re-election) on it,” Knudson said.

Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, pointed out Republicans have frozen UW tuition for four straight years.

“That’s the best way to keep college affordable,” he said.

The Assembly began their floor session at 3 p.m. Tuesday. They passed scores of bills and didn’t get to the college package until almost midnight. Republicans passed each bill by at least 15 votes, wrapping up their work on the package a little before 1 a.m.

The bills now go to the state Senate.

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