Students’ Association President Ally Helms and State and Local Government Chair Taylin Albrecht spent a “nerdy Monday night” watching bill numbers drop for the 2017 South Dakota Legislative session.
Together, they watched for pieces of legislation SA would be taking a stance on, on behalf of the South Dakota State student body.
Depending on what bills are brought up and when committees discuss legislation, SA senators may be traveling to Pierre multiple times a week to lobby for the SDSU student body on issues such as tuition costs, guns on campus and transgender rights.
Students who have concerns about legislation, or would like to talk to senators about the South Dakota Legislature, can stop by SA meetings each Monday at 7 p.m. in the Lewis and Clark room in The Union, or they can stop by the SA office.
Guns on campus
Although there haven’t been any bills introduced confronting the controversial issue of guns on campus, Helms plans to keep an eye out for one.
“There are very strong proponents of guns on campus in both House and Senate leadership, so it is a very big concern for us,” Helms said. “It is something we fought vigorously two years ago.”
Senators addressed a range of unintended consequences associated with concealed-carry on South Dakota campuses when they lobbied against the issue two years ago, including NCAA regulations, effects on medical school, research impacts across the state and the sense of well-being on campus.
A “vast majority” of students are opposed to guns on campus, Helms said.
“There are some individuals who see that there’s no current place in the system to stop campus visitors from concealed-carry, so ‘if random people can carry on campus then why can’t I?’ is an argument, but what we’ve heard from the majority of students is that they prefer not having concealed-carry on campus,” Helms said.
SA senators have reached out to legislators from District 7, informing them about the student reaction.
Right now, South Dakota has a “projected deficit” for 2017. This situation will affect state financial support of SDSU projects and the likelihood of a tuition freeze or buy-down.
Neither Helms nor Albrecht expect either tuition possibility.
“We will be extraordinarily lucky to get a buy-down this year, and we’ve been really gifted by the state to have two tuition freezes and a buy-down the year before that, which is really unheard of,” Helms said. “So going forward, we’re watching tuition and seeing what the board sets later in March. But we’re not expecting a buy-down this year; there’s just not room.”
A request from SDSU officials for financial support on a renovation of the Animal Disease Research and Diagnostics Lab will also be affected by the budget. The facility was originally proposed as a $75 million facility and has since come down in price to better fit what is possible for funding.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard proposed $5 million for the renovation in his budget address earlier this month.
The Frost Arena renovation hasn’t received much pushback, according to Albrecht. The renovation would include adding an elevator to the facility, restructuring seating and adding practice courts.
“It’s a priority for various pockets of this campus, so that’ll be something we take a stance on as well. There will be separate stances versus the legislature if they’d ask us to use GAF dollars [to fund the renovation],” Helms said.
Last year’s House Bill 1008 caused national controversy over the rights of transgender people and which bathroom they would be able to use. SA senators are preparing to see a similar bill brought forward this year and take a stand on it.
“If some kind of transgender policy gets put in place, we won’t host any NCAA stuff here anymore,” Albrecht said, referencing a discussion she had about the issue with District 7 Sen. Larry Tidemann. “Just because they can go to other states that don’t have that policy … it would affect events like the NCAA football game we just had.”
Helms added that students across campus have been vocally against restricting transgender rights.
Albrecht heard there may be some discussions on changing the South Dakota Opportunity Scholarship program.
She encouraged students who receive the scholarship to reach out to senators and talk with them about possible changes and what impact it has had on their education.