A balcony of theatre-style seats known as the Gallery surrounds the Senate floor. On Feb. 4, students from all six regental universities filled these chairs after a morning of testifying in committee meetings and speaking with state lawmakers at Students for Higher Education Day.
Nearly 30 students-well over half of the total students in attendance-from SDSU participated in SHED and tried to persuade legislators to pass laws important to the college students in South Dakota, like the Opportunity Scholarship bills, a bill capping the interest rate for pay-day loans and a bill that would prevent universities from banning firearms on campus.
“I think that anyone that has any interest in higher education should try to make it to SHED because this affects everyone,” said Amanda Maffett, a senior music major.
SHED, held Feb. 3-5, is sponsored by the South Dakota Student Federation as a time when university students are invited to Pierre to lobby for issues concerning the university system.
“I think it’s great,” said Rep. Kim Vanneman (R-Gregory, Tripp). “You can always see, no matter what the issue, when there’s testimony from grassroots groups that it resonates well with members of the committees.”
SHED was the first experience with South Dakota politics for Andy Walker, a senior general agriculture major and Students’ Association senator. The Opportunity Scholarship bills, Senate Bills 59 and 201, were his main concern.
“To me, it’s not about the money. It’s about the students,” said Walker. “Changing what we’re going to change is going to make the opportunity greater for more students in South Dakota to get the scholarship.”
For Tony Temple, a sophomore chemistry and biology major, SHED is something worth doing over.
“I came here last year, half the time to lobby for the Opportunity Scholarship. Hopefully we get it passed this year,” said Temple.
John Sandstrom, a senior pharmacy major, Rachel Lewis, a senior biology major, and Patrick Weber, a senior mathematics major, testified in a committee meeting about the Opportunity Scholarship bills. The committee deferred voting on both SB 59 and SB 201 until Feb. 3. Some students who participated in SHED plan to return to Pierre for the vote.
“When you have 30 students from SDSU standing in a committee office when they’re deciding on the Opportunity Scholarship, it makes quite the impression,” said Walker. “I’m very disappointed they did not vote on it today.”
Ryan Brunner, a graduate student, and Eric Hanson, a political science and economics major, testified in committee on the payday loan bill.
SDSU SHED participants witnessed passage of House Bill 1261 in the House. “The legislators kept looking up at us during the gun bill debate,” said Temple.
“I’m glad you’re here. You need to make personal contact with legislators and let them know that the Board of Regents also has support for their programs and that it benefits you,” said Gov. Mike Rounds, who met with SHED participants. “If you’re not here to support the Regents, other people who are here all the time, just by sheer pressure, are going to win in this challenge for funding.”
Rounds told students that higher education is “on a collision course” and that K-12 is the biggest obstacle universities have to receive funding. He said his priorities for higher education are the creation of I3, a broadband line he says is necessary for research, as well as building up the maintenance and reserve fund for new buildings and science labs at university campuses.
“I’m asking for your help, because we’re going to need it,” said Rounds.