After an entire quarter of deliberation, voting and drafting, the Associated Students Board of Directors adopted the 2012 Legislative Agenda passed by the Legislative Affairs Council.
For the next year, this seven-page document will act as a guiding medium for all of Western’s governmental affairs and positions on student advocacy and legislative lobbying.
Every year, the AS is responsible for producing a Legislative Agenda. Iris Maute-Gibson, the AS Vice President for governmental affairs, said that this year’s agenda and the process that went into making it was far different than previous years.
“The agenda is much more comprehensive and broad-reaching,” Maute-Gibson said. “It also has the advantage of being parsed out in a way that folks will be able to access different aspects of it if they were looking for different views of what it is to be a student.”
The 2012 Legislative Agenda begins with the “Guiding Principles” section. This part of the agenda sets the tone for the rest with its two main principles: higher education is a public good that benefits the state and people of Washington; and “the opportunity to pursue higher education is the right of every individual, regardless of financial resources.”
“That’s really where we’re trying to turn the conversation to; from whether it is or isn’t a right of every individual to have equal access to higher education,” Maute-Gibson said. “It really comes down to that it is a need to have affordable, accessible, quality higher education in our state.”
The next section, “Priority Legislative Agenda,” provides some support for the guiding principles by taking a stance to support any increase to higher education in the state budget, oppose restrictions to financial aid and advocate for the preservation and increased funding to the Work Study program – a stance that Maute-Gibson said is not shared by every Western student.
“This Legislative Agenda is not one that necessarily speaks to every student,” Maute-Gibson said. “By taking a stronger stance on these issues this year, we may not be accounting for some of the voices who wouldn’t agree with us but at times we think that for the preservation of the values of accessibility and affordability at Western, we need to take these stances.”
The remainder of the document is comprised of the “Student Values Legislative Agenda.” This section, which makes up the bulk of the agenda, is broken up into the subheadings of access and attainment, accountability and student representation, quality student experience, diversity, environment, faculty, student debt, and revenue.
Each subheading begins with an italicized statement highlighting why each value is important and crucial to students. Following this are bullet points which provide the specifics as to how the AS will support or oppose legislative actions regarding the topics stated in the Student Values Legislative Agenda. This formatting is new this year and through it, Maute-Gibson said the agenda will be easier to utilize.
“The values statement adds the ability to really share with legislators not necessarily what we stand for, but who we are as students. The great thing about this is it’s not just a piece that explains what our values and principles are, but we can utilize it as a tool to educate students, alumni, parents and other higher education stakeholders and then in turn, gain broader support for higher education and get more people engaged in this conversation that we need to have.”
Maute-Gibson said that the creation process of this year’s agenda was a much more collaborative one than in previous years. In the past, the responsibilities for coming up and implementing the agenda lay primarily in the hands of the ASVP for Governmental Affairs, this year those duties were spread out amongst the Legislative Affairs Council and other AS offices.
The Legislative Affairs Council meets every Monday in Viking Union 567.
While the LAC has always played a role in the creation of the Legislative Agenda, this year they were enabled the ability to interpret the agenda as well.
This means that any student wishing to advocate for a bill or piece of legislature can come to an LAC meeting and the council can determine whether or not it adheres to the principles and values stated in this year’s agenda.
“I think it makes it very accessible for students to be able to lobby,” LAC Vice Chairperson Patrick Stickney said. “We will be able to authorize funds that we have set aside specifically for lobbying the legislature and issues that will affect students as much as financial aid, tuition and Work Study.”
Stickney said this year’s agenda will increase student investment and awareness more than in the past and that it will also increase the involvementof student interest groups such as the Washington Students Association in the collaboration with the LAC.
“I’m really excited the way that we have structured it, and I’m excited for next year to see what sort of advancements are made on the Legislative Agenda that we have come up with this year,” Stickney said.