As a result of a student statewide lobbying group’s controversial donation to a political campaign, a bill that would allow universities to only collect and distribute money for recognized student organizations, is set to advance through the state Legislature in the next week or so.
House Bill 2169, sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), passed through the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 27 and will soon go up for debate. The bill stems from the controversy surrounding the Arizona Students’ Association contribution to the Vote Yes on Prop. 204 campaign, using student fee money, Kavanagh said.
The bill specifies that a university cannot transfer money to student organizations if that money will then be used to influence “the outcome of an election or to advocate support for or opposition to pending or proposed legislation.”
“When the money goes to an outside group, the university has no control of how it’s spent and state law prohibits public funds to be used for elections, which is exactly what this group did,” Kavanagh said. “We’re going to bring that money that’s collected mandatorily from students back under the protections of state law to prevent people like this student group [ASA] from abusing the money.”
ASA “works to make sure that higher education in Arizona is affordable and accessible,” according to its website. The three state universities collected a $2-per-student, per-semester fee for ASA up until the Arizona Board of Regents temporarily suspended the fee’s collection in November.
Last month, the board voted to make it an opt-in fee, requiring students to explicitly consent to the fee prior to payment.
HB 2169 was amended last week to include only outside student organizations, making most university-recognized clubs safe from losing funding. But ASA members said the bill seems to retaliate against them specifically.
“The amendment to the bill really makes it seem like it’s trying to target one organization, rather than change the culture of student organizations as a whole,” said Jordan King, ASA vice chairman of the board of directors and chairman of the internal affairs committee. “You really can’t target one student organization without affecting others.”
ASA hopes to reach out to state representatives and students about the bill, King said.
“If it passed, which I hope it doesn’t, it would be detrimental to ASA,” he said. “We speak on behalf of students to people in government positions. If we’re no longer allowed to represent students when it comes to things being passed through elections in our state, then there’s really no use for a statewide student association.”
The bill could also create issues for student organizations that aren’t recognized by the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, said Associated Students of the University of Arizona President Katy Murray. The funding for those groups is taken from fees students pay to different colleges, she added.
“Obviously it affects ASA, but it affects a lot of organizations on the U of A campus,” Murray said. “Organizations will either have to go through new processes to get funding, or could lose some opportunities for funding altogether. I think the biggest issue impacting us overall is from a macro level. The fact is that this bill as a whole really limits what students and student organizations really have the ability to do.”
Now that the bill has passed through the Appropriations Committee, it will go up for debate by the entire Arizona House of Representatives and then for a vote.
“I think the chances of it passing are excellent,” Kavanagh said. “Public monies should never be used for political purposes. Nobody should be able to do that and this exception that we carved out for this group [ASA] has to be closed. If they want to get student money, they’ve got to become a recognized student group.”