Student lobbyists compete for funds

by Tracy Ellingson

Twelve University students spent Saturday at the state Capitol preparing for a fight.
Although this match won’t involve any “Rocky”-style knockouts, members of two student lobbying groups expect intense competition as they get ready to lobby state legislators on increases in University funding and other student issues.
“Competing for funds is going to be a major fight,” said College of Liberal Arts sophomore Kevin Pomasl.
Pomasl is the intern coordinator for Legislative Watch, a function of the Minnesota Student Association in which student interns follow and report on bills that are important to the University.
Pomasl said student lobbyists will come up against particularly stiff competition this session, as legislators must decide how much money should go into the state’s new welfare system.
Many legislators seem wary of underfunding welfare, but recognize the need to increase funding to the University.
This year’s Legislative Watch interns, CLA sophomores Jesse Berglund and Adam Miller, took a crash course this weekend on how a bill becomes a law, and they were given a tour of the building where they will undoubtedly be spending many of their days. Interns from the Student Legislative Coalition at the University of Minnesota, a student lobbying organization, joined Berglund and Miller for the orientation.
“The legislators like to see students (at the Capitol),” said Cori Ertz, chairwoman of the coalition, “because they know we are not getting paid. They know that we are doing it out of a genuine interest for the University of Minnesota.”
Scott Magnuson, the Senate intern coordinator at the Capitol and the group’s orientation leader, said student lobbyists’ effectiveness in persuading legislators varies depending on the members themselves.
“You will have some members who feel very close or attuned to college students,” Magnuson said. “You might have others that … have other areas of concern or other priorities.”
Last year Ertz and the coalition, then called the University of Minnesota Coalition for Higher Education, worked closely with Rep. Myron Orfield, DFL-Minneapolis, in hopes of passing a bill that would lower University students’ tuition rates. Although the bill failed, Ertz said the project was their most successful in some time because it increased legislators’ awareness of the difficulties students have with ever-increasing tuition costs.
This year the coalition has determined its student lobbyists will concentrate on four major issues. With the Legislature’s review of the biennial budget request coming up, the group plans to support the University’s full budget request of $580 million per year. Ertz said the coalition’s support of the full request is based on the need to keep tuition hikes relatively low.
The coalition, which is made up of undergraduate and graduate students from all four University campuses, also plans to support emergency funding for the Duluth and Morris campuses to improve some of the buildings at those schools.
Raising awareness of the need for regent selection reforms and supporting increased accessibility to child care for University students with children are the other two areas the organization has placed on its agenda this session.
Student lobbyists from all four campuses will come to St. Paul to speak with legislators about these issues on a regular basis. Coalition interns from the Twin Cities campus will take charge of a specific issue and will assemble a team of other student lobbyists to go to the state Capitol and talk with legislators.
The coalition plans to recruit students to join them in their efforts in the Legislature. Students will be encouraged to write letters, make phone calls or travel to the Capitol to visit with their legislators.