trip.to.austin

Yesterday I went with other EIC ladies to Austin to present to Texas House of Representative members on behalf of the Green Fee Bill.

[from ReEnergizeTexas.org]

HB 3353 & SB 2182: Campus Green Fees (For)
These bills, if passed and signed into law, would allow students to vote for an “environmental services fee” of up to $5 per student per semester. In order for the fee to go into effect, the student body of the campus would have to approve it by a majority vote, and then the governing board of the institution (such as a Board of Regents) would have to approve it.

The key to passing this legislation is to demonstrate student support. Due to rising tuition, many in the legislature want to put a cap on tuition. It is important that we show that the state can cap tuition while still giving students the right to choose a new fee that brings improvements to their campus. In many cases the fee could be invested in energy efficiency or other projects likely to save the university money in the near or long term.

The hearing began late at 2:30, we arrived at 3:30 and waited until 8pm for me to give my testament.  It was my first day to wear a business suit, I told the girls that while dressing that day I had never felt more like a superhero suiting up for action.  I wrote my speech in 10 mins, then basically sat on it all day.

When the bill was finally called to be read in the House Committee of Higher Education, our expert panel began our testimonies.  The organizer who works with ReEnergize Texas and our campus gave an introduction talking about Texas involvement and the growing movement of student environmental activism.  My equivalent at University of Texas then began and eloquently covered the talking points/history of the bill that is usual in “lobbying”.  Following him was a “neutral” testimony from a staff member at UT who runs the energy efficiency office on campus basically detailing how an early investment in sustainability saves the campus money in the long run [yes, this seems self explanatory but we’re dealing with politicians here].

After reading over the preliminary packet for the hearing prepped by the organizer, I knew that the overall presentation would run this way.  Politicians, while they love the facts, the need to be faced with the humanity of the issues and that is what I was going to lend to the presentation.  Yes, its a fee.  Students don’t like to pay fees as college is already very expensive.  But when what the fee pays for is necessary…the fee is necessary.  I was going to present the struggle EIC has been through in order to get what is necessary, fee or not.

Here are some quotes from my speech, the ones that made everybody look up and listen to Greenpeace Barbie, because who knew she could speak like that?!:

I have seen Texas A&M grow in many different ways during my time as an undergraduate–the size of our student body, the scope of our research, new buildings and facilities across campus–all of which have been met with adequate support.  So too have I seen the growing desires within the student body to make a difference in curbing out environmental impact.  But this growth has not been met with adequate support, has not be met with the necessary programs and services that students must have to be a benefit and not a burden to the community.

Our campus has taen many strides towards sustainability–[examples]–and we’re appreciative of these efforts but it is not enough.

[Summaries of EIC’s campaign efforts]  The students keep pushing and are recieiving little in return.

[after speaking on the interest of students on campus, and those to come] The Princeton Review conducted a survey gathering responses from nearly 16,000 high school students and their parents, asking If you had a way of comparing colleges based on their commitment to the environment, how much would it contribute to your decision to apply of attend that school? The results concluded that 92% would favor having this information upon applying, with 24% saying they would base their decision on this information.

As an institute of higher education, Texas A&M has a responsiblity to educate their students both inside and outside the classroom, leading in our development as active, responsible citizens.

As students, we’re ready to see these changes on campus.  Last week the Aggie voted 76% in favor of Texas A&M investing more in environmentally sustainable services.  That is more student support for one issue than in the history of Texas A&M University.

This is a battle as students we cannot win alone.  We need your support through this Green Fee Bill to make it happen.

In the past our efforts have hit against a wall of political preference–environmental issues are seen as a leftist, radical, an unreasonable luxury.  We are tired of hearing this excuse.  This is not an issue to only be voted on or acted upon by one sing party, for we all benefit from an investment in our community’s environment.

So I ask you today, on behalf of my committee and the 76% of Aggies who demand the neccessary services on our campus–to put your political ideology aside and vote for what is best for us–your students, your children, the future of this state and nation.

Thanks and Gig’em.

I’ll post updates of the bill [maybe photos from the trip] and information on our next trip.

More information on the bill:

HB 3353
relating to an environmental service fee at public institutions of higher education
PROBLEM:
At present, if a student body wants to create an environmental service fee, the students typically must vote for it during a regular Student Government election (1 year); it is then passed to the university’s government relations staff to be turned into a bill for the State Legislature (1-2 years); during the following State Legislative Session the Legislature votes on a bill that is based on the student referendum; if the bill passes, it then goes back to the student body for another vote at the next Student Government election (1 year).  Finally, the matter is taken up by the governing board of the college or university and the fee may be approved and integrated into student billing.
If all goes perfectly a student body cannot get a student fee for at least 3-4 years, assuming the university is able to implement the fee only one semester after it has been voted on by students for the second time.  This protracted process dictates that very few student priorities get the opportunity to seek funding from the student body because it takes longer for a fee to be created than it takes many students to complete a degree.
SOLUTION:

HB 3353 would give the governing bodies of Texas public colleges and universities the opportunity to implement an environmental service fee after a student body vote.  Thus, students and their governing boards can determine for themselves whether they would like to spend up to $5 per student per semester to improve the environmental integrity of their campuses.
The additional fee money will allow students to engage their institutions of higher education on projects to reduce energy consumption, reduce pollution, improve waste management, and more.  It will help student projects receive small grants when they improve the campus. The funds could also help campuses upgrade facilities and campus infrastructure to maintain compliance with changing environmental regulations.
Fee money can also be invested as initial capital for projects such as energy efficiency upgrades, paper recycling, or onsite renewable energy generation which can pay for themselves and then provide a financial benefit to the campus and its students.
BACKGROUND:
HB 3353 is based on SB 1230 passed during the 78th Legislature.  This bill created an environmental service fee at Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State University) of $1 per student per semester.  The entire process from the beginning of a student campaign to the actual collection of the first fees took 4 years (2000 to 2004).
Today, Texas State University administers the fee through an Environmental Service Fee Committee which is comprised of 7 voting members, 4 students and 3 faculty.  The Committee receives applications for funding from the university community and chooses projects which benefit the university, meet the requirements of the legislation, and are considered fiscally responsible.
ANALYSIS:
Section 1. Amends Education Code Chapter 54, Subchapter E, by adding Section 54.5041 to state that the governing body of an institution of higher education may charge a student fee of up to $5 per semester for environmental services to students at that institution once such a fee has been approved by a majority vote of the student body.
Section 2. States that the Act applies only to fees imposed for terms beginning on or after the effective date of the Act.
Section 3. The Act takes effect immediately if it receives a two-thirds vote in each house, or on September 1, 2009 if it passes with less than a two-thirds vote in either house.
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