SA represents student voice, lobbies at capital


“We’ll split up.” Two senators walked away to lobby on the House floor, while the other two chased down a legislator in another part of the capital building.

Watching the Students’ Association lobby at the capital is like watching a football team set up its next play. Days in Pierre are filled with the senators’ group huddles, strategic thinking and whispering about what the next move should be. The only thing missing were secret hand signals.

The four senators broke up their group huddle after figuring out the day’s lobbying strategy Jan. 27.

President Caleb Finck and State and Local Government Chair Ashley Tonak walked away to speak to representatives on the House floor. Vice President Matt Dahle and Administrative Assistant Ally Helms chased down a legislator in another part of the capital building to persuade him to support a bill.

SA senators lobby at the capital as a way to represent the student voice at South Dakota State University. They also represent the students through passing resolutions and maintaining communication with legislators, city council members and administrators.

 “As students we have a different voice than the institution or the Board of Regents, and they [legislators] will tell you that,” he said.

Legislators email Finck and ask questions about what students think about different pieces of legislation, Finck said. Doug Wermedal, interim vice president of Student Affairs, said legislators’ willingness to listen to what representatives from SA say is a testament to the organization’s role.

“The fact that the student voice is consequential in legislative matters is a testament to that effort,” Wermedal said. “In other words, if students’ voices weren’t heard through that route, then what other methods are there?”

Senators not only represent the student body for matters in the capital, but at the city council and administrative level.

Tonak’s position as state and local government chair requires she stay informed on what’s happening in the city and at the state level, and attend Brookings City Council meetings.

“We have a presence there just to maintain that relationship with them and ensure them that we truly, SDSU and Brookings, want to be one community functioning together, receiving the benefits of having a community like Brookings supporting SDSU and having a college campus like SDSU supporting the town of Brookings,” Tonak said.

Tonak estimated she spends about 15 or 20 hours each week working on SA related matters, depending on whether she travels to Pierre for the legislative session each week. Finck said he travels to Pierre about once every week during the session.

Two bills requiring the attention of SA this session include a bill that would grant limited immunity from charges to underage- drinking young adults who call emergency medical services for another person who needs it (HB 1078), otherwise known as the Good Samaritan Alcohol 

Policy (GSAP) bill. The other bill would allow the sale of alcohol on college campuses for university -sponsored events, such as fundraising events (SB 102).

In order to lobby for or against bills or actions at the university administration, city council or state legislature level; SA senators pass a resolution containing the views and beliefs representing the SDSU student body.

In terms of the GSAP bill, SA senators supported the bill passing through the legislature. The Senate unanimously voted to pass its own resolution in support of the bill, which was used by Finck to show legislators what students felt about the GSAP bill.

When Finck traveled to Pierre to support the bill he answered any questions legislators had for him from a student perspective and testified on behalf of the bill. He used the resolution passed by SA as “proof” he had students standing behind him supporting the bill.

The amount of time spent in Pierre by the president of SA or by other members of SA depends on both the legislation present in Pierre and how much time the senators are willing to devote to representing the student voice.

Tonak said that besides lobbying and making resolutions, most of the work SA does is “behind the scenes.”

“I think that sometimes it’s not very public knowledge what SA specifically does for students,” Tonak said, “but there’s tons of background work and foundation that’s constantly being laid to make sure that those relationships are the best they can be and to make sure that we all are functioning together.”