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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

AS jumps into new legislative year with an agenda

By Jessica Vangel

Western’s Associated Students legislative agenda weighs in on major national discussions of the past year, emphasizing support of undocumented students and survivors of sexual assault. Some other major topics include sexual education reform in K-12 schools, voters rights and access, tuition affordability, civics education and student unionization.

This agenda highlights what the AS deems as important issues to campus and students overall. The agenda was brought together by the Legislative Affairs Council, a committee made up of students.

The AS is also working in the local community on issues important to students.

Anna Kemper, the local issues coordinator for the AS, works closely with other legislative stakeholders at Western. She keeps up with Bellingham City Council and organizes action that is relevant to Western students.

“Top priority issues to students include housing availability and affordability, homelessness and protection for undocumented students,” Kemper said. “I’ll be continuing the work of the past local lobbyists by focusing on housing and social justice issues in Bellingham that relate to students.”

Kemper focuses on topics listed on the agenda and discussed in media that relate to issues in Bellingham and on Western’s campus. She has been in her role since September and makes it her job to be knowledgeable of student concerns.

Here are the items on the legislative agenda this year:

Tuition & affordability

The AS agenda again focuses on tuition, listing rising cost as a concern.

In the agenda, the AS also makes a point to recognize that tuition for 2013-14 and 2014-15 were frozen (meaning tuition did not increase or decrease) and

for 2015-16, it actually decreased.

The agenda listed ways to continue the trends from those school years. The AS said they advocate for rolling back the 2.0-2.2 percent increase in tuition over the 2017-19 time period. They also include fully funding the State Need Grant, permanently detatching various activity fees from tuition and looking into the possibility of free tuition in the future, especially for low-income families.

Illustration by Hunter Smith

Support undocumented students

The AS recognizes undocumented students as one of the most vulnerable groups of students and hopes to increase support for them, according to the agenda.

The AS is backing the creation of a state-sponsored loan program for undocumented students similar to the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) loan program in California.

The agenda also prioritized passing legislation to expand financial aid for undocumented students, especially ones without Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The AS also wants to support undocumented students’ right to work on campus regardless of DACA status, an issue continuing to impact the ability of Ana Ramirez, elected vice president for governmental affairs, to fill her role.

Listed in the agenda is  support for revoking the business license of the Northwest Detention Center, a for-profit private prison. At their last meeting, the AS Board approved language stating that “severe health and safety violations,” committed by GEO Group warranted this action.

Support for survivors

The rising concern about sexual violence is listed on the agenda and the AS said they find the vastly underreported instances of sexual violence on campus alarming.

“We strongly believe that more students will be able to access support with increased funding at the state level, which will promote a healthier campus and community environment,” the agenda said.

The agenda includes a mandatory training program for all university staff and faculty, clarification of the reporting process, specialized personnel to help respond to these acts of violence and evaluating the effectiveness of university codes of conduct in the state.

Student Unionization

The AS’s agenda states that “student employees are overworked, underpaid, mistreated, underappreciated and even sometimes actively harmed in the workplace.”

They believe labor unions can have a big impact on these issues and are calling the legislature to recognize student employee unions.

Revenue

Making sure the university has enough funding and is properly allocating the funds is a concern of the AS.

The AS wants to prioritize tuition affordability and financial aid as essential to students. Closing exemptions from real estate excise tax and from extracted fuel, increasing estate tax and taxing lottery winnings are some of the items the AS has listed on the agenda.

Kemper emphasized the impact of student involvement in supporting these items.

“Often, it takes more than one session to achieve what we want in our lobbying efforts, but examples like lobbying for funding to renovate the Carver Academic Building prove that student action can have big impact,” Kemper said.

Voter rights and access

The agenda states that voting is a right many communities are barred from because of discrimination based on their income, disability, class or race.

The AS is calling for implementation of the Washington Voting Rights Act, to ensure people of all identities are able to vote.

The AS is also supporting an extension of voter registration deadlines, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote at the Department of Licensing and increasing access to voters with disabilities.

Sexual education

In Washington state, K-12 sexual education is not legally required and it is up to the districts to decide whether they would like to include it in curriculum or not, according to Washington Administrative Code.

The agenda said the AS is advocating for inclusive sex education to be required in Washington state, including discussions about consent.

In addition, the AS said they would like to strengthen the Healthy Youth Act, which requires schools that do offer sexual education to offer comprehensive and scientifically accurate information.

Civics education

Another focus of the agenda is to improve civics education for K-12 schools in order to properly educate future voters about civic involvement. Their agenda includes encouraging democratic decision-making and critical thinking.

Lobby Day

AS Legislative Liaison Rosa Rice-Pelepko, who was involved in the drafting of the agenda, said that she is excited for involvement from students this year.

“Western Lobby Day is an important event for two reasons,” Kemper said. “It gives Western students a chance to let their legislators know what important issues students care about, and it gives students a chance to learn about the political process, local government, and how to effectively lobby on issues.” 

The AS will be taking students to Olympia for Western Lobby Day on Jan. 14 and 15.

Students will receive training from lobbyist experts such as Kemper, Rice-Pelepko and Ramirez and then lobby in groups.

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