While some students were taking advantage of last week's three-day weekend by sleeping late or heading up to the mountain, 20 students made a trip down to Olympia to lobby for important issues regarding Western.
According to Erik Lowe, vice president for legislative and governmental affairs, members of the AS Board, members of the Legislative Affairs Council, students from the student senate and a few interested students-at-large traveled to the capital Jan. 19 to push for three main issues. The annual trip to Olympia allows Western students to have their voices heard and to influence policies that affect the university.
One bill that students lobbied for was the creation of a better system of funding for preschools located in Washington universities that serve students and faculty. Currently, six universities compete for part of $150,000 bi-annual grant money. In order to receive any of this money, Western's Child Developmental Center (CDC) must show that they have been practicing new and innovative ways of doing early childhood education, Lowe said.
The new bill would allow the state to match any amount of money that the university contributes to the preschool center. Currently, the AS contributes $80,000 to the preschool, Lowe said. The passage of the bill would be result in more funding for Western, which would help keep fees for students and faculty who use the preschool as low as possible.
The students also lobbied for more resources to improve campus safety. Western hopes to receive a little more than a $1 million to provide funding for the hiring of a new psychiatrist, more counselors, emergency management program specialists, more police officers and an assistant dean to oversee them, Lowe said. The administration is hoping to take preventative measures to avoid tragedies such as what happened on campus at Virginia Tech. With part of the money, Western wants to set in place a reliable messaging system for emergencies. The alert system would include text messaging and e-mail in the case of an emergency on campus.
Also, the students were pushing for funding for Western's Student Affairs Targeted Leadership Advantage Program, a program started in the fall of 2007 to create a leadership development program for students. It aims to build on Western's reputation of creating leaders in a variety of fields, Lowe said. The program also aims to recruit bright, promising students from low income families who are the first generation to attend a university.
In order to achieve these goals, the group had several meetings with various legislators from Bellingham and politicians on the Higher Education Committee, Lowe said. They also met with Eastern Washington legislators in an effort to garner support from all over the state.
According to Lowe, the students went to Olympia early in the legislative session because it is still early in committee, and not very many bills have been killed yet. Lowe said he and the other members wanted to let the AS opinion be known and have a chance to be successful. According to Lowe, they are hoping the bills will be written into the end of the year budget because 2007 was a long session. However, because the current harsh state of the U.S. economy, the governor wants to set money aside to be prepared for a Washington recession. This leaves limited funds available for other causes.
AS Legislative Liaison, Sarah Ishmael, is currently in Olympia and is updating Lowe and the AS Board about the progress of the three issues. According to Lowe, they will know within a few weeks if some of the bills receive funding, and the rest should be resolved by the tentative closing of the session on March 13.
“I think it is important that Western students know what we are talking about in Olympia,” Lowe said.
Interested students can come by Lowe's office at Viking Union 504C and discuss the legislative agenda and its impacts on Western.