SGA lobbies for students in Topeka

J. Fred Fox | reporter

TOPEKA – Members of the Student Government Association traveled to the Capitol on Monday armed with an agenda to lobby.
SGA spent the day at the Capitol in Topeka for Higher Education Day advocating for higher education to at least sustain current levels of funding.
The most important item on the agenda is the state budget, which is currently running a $700 million deficit. Many legislators are eyeing higher education funding cuts as one of various ways to eliminate that deficit. Pittsburg State received about $35 million in state appropriations last year.
Even Gov. Sam Brownback, who presented his budget to the Legislature, wasn’t too optimistic that higher education funding would pass as he presented it.
SGA was also hoping to lobby on other issues facing Kansas universities. The hot topic was the ban of conceal-and-carry at public universities governed by the Kansas Board of Regents.
Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, says she doesn’t want to use the state Legislature to force universities to allow conceal-and-carry on campus.
“The state government doesn’t prevent universities from allowing concealed-carry on campuses, it’s the school’s administration that is preventing it,” Menghini said.
She says that the state government already forces too much policy on local government matters.
“However, something like the statewide smoking ban … that’s something that affects public health across the state,” she said.
Also on SGA’s agenda was to support in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. Currently, the state does grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants under certain conditions, including a three-year residency requirement.
A bill to withdraw that tuition break will be considered by legislators this session
Steve Scott, university president, was also in Topeka testifying to the Ways and Means committee about PSU’s recent momentum and expansion.
“It’s always good to meet with legislators and build relationships,” Scott said.
He also had the opportunity to speak to students about how much he appreciated their efforts.
Sydney Ward, SGA vice president, says this year’s Higher Education Day had improved from previous years.
“The pre-conference in Lawrence was really beneficial to our success,” Ward said.
She says she was glad to meet with Sen. Jacob LaTurner, R-Crawford County and a PSU alumnus. Even though LaTurner is one of the most conservative Republicans in the Legislature, he appeared to be sympathetic to higher education funding.
Lara Ismert, SGA president, also says the training day at the University of Kansas was beneficial to the students before going to the Capitol.
“We got to intermingle schools … and were able to bring a more unified stance among all the Regents schools,” she said. “That resulted in some really big successes.”
The trip also allowed students to bring up other questions they had about bills that weren’t necessarily on SGA’s agenda. Jacob Joosten, SGA judicial board member, was able to speak to Menghini about the proposed bill to allow all forms of alcohol sold in grocery and convenience stores instead of only 3.2 beer.
Menghini says she hasn’t supported past bills to allow all forms of alcohol in more retail locations.
“These small-business liquor stores are one of the last ma-and-pa businesses in Kansas … we just can’t absorb that kind of job loss,” Menghini said.
In addition to SGA and Scott being at the Capitol,

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