Student lobbyists prepare for Olympia
With the Washington state legislature’s 2016 session set to begin on Jan. 11, 112 Western students are preparing to travel to Olympia to meet with lawmakers about issues facing the Western community.
Viking Lobby Day, an annual trip to Olympia for students organized by the Associated Students’ Representation and Engagement Programs office, will take place on Jan. 17 and 18.
Students will meet with legislators to advance items set forth in the Associated Students legislative agenda for the event. The focus for some is on improving student services, asking for an increasing funding for tutoring and counseling and bolstering support for victims of sexual assault at the university.
Henry Pollet, a freshman planning to double major in political science and manufacturing engineering, is attending the Viking Lobby Day as a student representative. He has lobbied for environmental groups in Olympia before.
“It’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to going with Western,” Pollet said. “There’s a lot of really interesting issues.”
Students are also calling for enhanced voting rights and access across campus, and enacting fiscal changes such as decreasing tuition and further funding financial aid programs.
Josie Ellison, Associated Students legislative advocacy coordinator, said many of these requests were on the agenda in previous years as well.
Cost of Attendance Reduction
“The dedicated revenue piece has been on our agenda for a while,” Ellison said of the proposed changes in tuition funding. “A perpetual problem with higher education is a lack of funding.”
The “new and dedicated revenue” piece of the AS legislative agenda for Viking Lobby Day clarifies that a reduction in tuition for all students should not come at the expense of financial aid programs or be subsidized by out-of-state or graduate tuitions.
Voter Rights and Access
Students have brought the voting rights topic to Olympia before. This year will lobby for an extension of the voting registration deadline and voter education programs. Some of its specifics are new this year.
One of the new additions to the agenda this year is the request to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote when they receive their driver’s licenses as part of the current statewide “motor voter” system. The current law, created by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, allows people over the age of 18 to register to vote when they receive a driver’s license.
Support for Sexual Assault Victims
Students introduced the sexual assault proposal to state legislators last year. It has stayed largely the same, Ellison said.
The agenda calls for dedicated funding specifically for increased counseling services, including specialized personnel, resources and staff training to better equip the university to respond to sexual violence and involved parties.
“What that’s working towards is increasing funding for universities to provide more training for staff, professors, anyone who’s potentially going to be interacting with survivors of sexual assault,” Ellison said.
The increased funding that the agenda calls for would support programs like the Consultation and Sexual Assault Support (CASAS) office at Western, Ellison said.
Currently, Western’s Counseling, Health and Wellness programs, which include CASAS, receive $641,992 in state funding per year.
The measures proposed by the AS to increase funding for student services, such as tutoring and counseling, have also been a topic of conversation at the Viking Lobby Day for the past three years, Ellison said.
“When we get close to registration and there’s lines out the hallway to get to academic advising…things like that are what students complain about,” Ellison said.
In Western’s 2016 list of legislative priorities, the university calls for $2.4 million in state money to invest in student support services, including the Academic Advising Center. Western’s 2016-2017 budget allocates over $1.3 million in state funding to Academic and Career Development Services.
“Last quarter, we had times when it was an over two-week wait for an advising appointment. If you’re a student with a really pressing concern, that feels frustrating,” said Tina Loudon, Director of Academic and Career Development Services at Western.
Sophomore Emily Anderson said she hopes to get into the kinesiology major but has had a hard time both organizing her schedule and getting into the classes she needs. She thinks it would be helpful to have more counseling services available to her.
“The advising center is always packed and it takes an hour to get into it. They don’t give you much of a plan to go on. They’re just trying to get people through within fifteen minutes,” Anderson said.