MSLC tackles tuition, med. amnesty

The Student Legislative Coalition begins lobbying in January.

Tyler Gieseke

As part of its 2012-13 platform, the Minnesota Student Legislative Coalition will focus on student-debt relief, medical amnesty for people cited for underage alcohol consumption and increasing the availability of cheap online textbooks.

MSLC, launched last year, is a coalition of student representatives from all five University of Minnesota campuses. It aims to benefit students through legislative advocacy. The group will lobby state legislators to support issues included in its platform beginning in early January.

MSLC finalized its platform last week after receiving “generally positive” feedback, said Chair Matt Forstie.

The final platform, which will be presented to the Minnesota Student Association on Dec. 11, must be ratified by all six of its member student associations.

Focus on affordability

Feedback confirmed that the coalition’s focus should be affordability, Forstie said.

The platform includes support for the University’s budget request, which asks the state for about $1.2 billion over the next biennium.

MSLC will also push for a bill that would relieve student loan debt through tax credits if graduates stay in Minnesota. The legislation — Opportunity Minnesota — is based on a similar bill that passed in Maine in 2007, Forstie said.

If passed, he said the bill would make higher education more affordable for students and economically benefit the state — college-educated students would have incentive to stay and work in Minnesota, he said.

Forstie said Opportunity Minnesota was part of the platform for Twin Cities Advocacy Corps — now a part of MSLC — two years ago. It didn’t pass.

He said tax credits aren’t usually popular among legislators, but he’s optimistic for the issue this year because of the Democratic majority in the Legislature.    

Getting medical amnesty

A new issue for MSLC this year is medical amnesty — laws that protect underage individuals from citations if they’ve been drinking alcohol and call for medical assistance.

Both MSLC and MSA will push for statewide medical amnesty legislation this year, Forstie said. He said the issue offers a chance for students who might not normally be interested in student government to get involved since the issue directly affects students.

States like Michigan and New York have medical amnesty laws.

MSA President Taylor Williams said the legislation could save lives, since underage drinkers are sometimes reluctant to call for help if they believe they will get a citation.

University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said although the state shouldn’t wait for an accident to occur to pass a law, UMPD hasn’t had a case where an underage individual was in danger and didn’t call for help because he or she feared a citation for underage alcohol consumption.

UMPD officers use discretion when assigning citations, and a restorative justice program is available to people who wish to clear their underage consumption citations, Miner said.

But Williams and Forstie said there was definite cause for the group’s action.

“We have a bunch of anecdotal examples,” Williams said. 

Open textbooks

MSLC is supporting the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly in its efforts to pass legislation in Minnesota that would increase the availability of open textbooks — free or cost-reduced textbooks available online.

Often these texts are under Creative Commons copyright licenses, so teachers can use different chapters from different books, said Alfonso Sintjago, GAPSA executive vice president.

GAPSA would like to pass legislation similar to bills recently passed in California that made popular college textbooks openly available online, GAPSA President Brittany Edwards said.

“Students for all time have complained about tuition,” Edwards said, adding that making open textbooks available is one way to remedy that.