Students lobby at Capitol for Student Action Day

Britt Johnsen

Today, students have the opportunity to try to impact the Legislature through Student Action Day.

The Minnesota Public Interest Research Group is sponsoring the event, which falls on the same day other student groups will lobby at the capitol. MPIRG hopes at least 100 people from the University and nine other Minnesota MPIRG chapters will attend.

Student Action Day, which is entering its 31st year, differs from the University of Minnesota Lobby Day because MPIRG is lobbying two state issues instead of University issues.

One issue MPIRG is focusing on is fair and clean elections, which Sean Koebele, an MPIRG intern, said might change the face of politics.

The proposed Fair and Clean Elections Act creates a voluntary program in which political candidates accept donations of no more than $50 per person and no other outside donations.

According to the bill, other election funding would come from lawsuit decisions and a $2 per person tax.

“I think it’s an issue we have to address,” said Elana Dix, co-chairwoman of the University’s MPIRG chapter.

Koebele said the proposal would give candidates more time to focus on the issues rather than fund raising, and provide more diverse candidates.

“We want to get some of the big money out of politics so political decisions are not outspent,” he said.

By decreasing the amount of money power, MPIRG can have a larger effect on issues

concerning students, Koebele said. Bills failed in the past because of too much financial power in politics, he said.

In 1999 and 2000, MPIRG proposed a bill to drop ATM fees, but the banking industry’s money outweighed MPIRG’s power, Koebele said.

Another issue for which MPIRG will lobby is clean energy, including wind and hydrogen energy.

In 2000, MPIRG successfully lobbied for a $110 million environmental package that invests money in statewide environmental projects.

Although MPIRG usually advocates for environmental issues, in the spring – at a summit for the nine state MPIRG chapters – the group decides on specific concerns for Student Action Day.

The University’s MPIRG chapter is funded by student fees and currently has approximately 80 members, which is more than last semester’s 50 students.

“I’m expecting a positive turnout,” Koebele said.

The day will be one of what should be many to show the Legislature what changes need to be made, Koebele said.

“It takes more than one lobby day,” he said. “It takes being an active citizen and not just showing up one day a year to show the Legislature how you feel.”

Koebele said MPIRG has not planned another lobby day date.

First-year student Dustin Johnson said he does not think students will make an impact at the Legislature.

“It’s good they’re going, but it probably won’t make a huge difference,” he said. “The Legislature has bigger fish to fry.”