Office of Government Relations
The Office of Government Relations lobbies full time in Olympia during the legislative session, Winter Quarter and some of Spring Quarter during the long session. This office coordinates voting registration efforts, promotes voter education, and plans the annual lobby day in Olympia. Although our primary focus is on the State Legislature and State Agencies, we also advocate on relevant public policy issues to the U.S. Congress and to various county and city governments.
It was not until 1991 that students lobbied on behalf of their own issues. Tuition increases have always been a concern: Some increases commanded as much as 15 percent. Gov. Booth Gardner once suggested a 25 percent raise during the 1993 legislative session and Gov. Gary Locke once suggested a 29 percent increase. Control of student fees has also been a common issue. In addition, issues over diversity, accommodations for students with disabilities, student regents and financial aid have been on the list since the first student agenda in 1991.
The looming threat of an economic recession made students worry about a potential tuition hike. In spite of these activities, student lobbyists were able to stay focused on their immediate concerns at the UW. Under Gov. Booth Gardner's plan, students would face an 11.5 percent tuition hike, plus a 5 percent cut in public funding. A bill designed to attract minority students to state universities and maintain their enrollment until graduation was touted by '91 lobbyists. For graduate minority students, the Minority Graduate Conditional Fellowship would provide funding for minority graduate students to earn their master's degrees on the condition that they remain for two to three more years after graduation and work at a state university or community college. Student lobbyists proposed to improve facilities and accessibilities for handicapped students. Some previous improvements include prioritized seating in classrooms, improved translators for the hearing impaired and wheelchair-accessible campus trails. Student lobbyists addressed the problem of limited University family housing for graduate students, single parents and faculty.
With a $1.6 billion gulf separating projected state revenues from planned state expenditures, Gov. Gardner planned to raise the necessary funds with his proposal to raise sales tax by 0.5 percent, freeze plans for new or expanded programs approved by previous legislatures, deny all state employees - including UW faculty and staff - their regularly scheduled pay raises, raise state business and occupation tax and raise tuition. However, Gardner avoided making major cuts to existing state programs. Student lobbyists pushed for a bill that would add one graduate student and one undergraduate students to the UW and WSU board of regents and one student to the boards of trustees of the state's three regional universities. Lobbyists also pushed for a new American Indian culture and language curriculum center at a state college or university. An additional bill to mandate minimum access and equipment standards at public colleges and universities was also considered. A bill was considered that would guarantee that the UW chapters of the Washington Student Lobby and Washington Public Interest Research Group retain access to the UW's phone registration system for voluntary student donations. Two bills sponsored by UW faculty member Jeanne Kohl aimed at ensuring gender equity in college athletics. One bill would extend state-funded tuition waivers for women athletes, approved for four-year colleges and universities. The second bill would establish a recruitment center for women coaches and athletic administrators.
Issues such as local control of tuition by regents were opposed by the WSL and ASUW lobbyists. Students and lawmakers also expressed their desire to get a more permanent policy on setting tuition, due to the fact that there was no set tuition policy for Washington state institutions. Not much as changed! Increased aid for undergraduate education was placed on high priority. The state's need grant was underfunded despite increases made in the last biennium. Lobbyists tried another push to get a voting student member on the UW Board of Regents or at other universities. In 1998, this was finally approved.
- Higher faculty salaries
- Exempting higher education from the Initiative 601 spending cap
- Legislative tuition-setting authority
- Equality for domestic partnership
- Finding new ways to expand diversity
- State funding of safe and affordable child care
- Mandating mastery of the English language for instructors and TAs
- A tax exemption for textbooks
- Opposition to any effort to limit the civil rights of students
Government Relations Task Force 2006
OGR Position Changes
For the Winter Quarter 2006, the Government Relations Task Force (GRTF)considered how to make student lobbying efforts more powerful and more effective. As part of this discussion, the GRTF has considered changes to various aspects of ASUW lobbying efforts including the drafting and approval of the Legislative Agenda, the structure and place of the Legislative Steering Committee (LSC), the structure of the Office of Government Relations (OGR) itself, and the relationship between ASUW and other lobbying organizations such as Affordable Tuition Now and the Washington Student Lobby.
These changes predominantly revolve around the addition of several student employees to the office, and modifications to existing job descriptions. No changes were recommended to the position of OGR Director – this individual should remain the primary coordinator and executor of ASUW lobbying efforts as prescribed by the Legislative Agenda.
The OGR Director was assisted by a Legislative Coordinator. The Legislative Coordinator in addition to being responsible for event programming on campus, is frequently tapped for research and lobbying assistance. Furthermore, the Legislative Coordinator acts as Chair of the LSC. It was recommended that the Legislative Coordinator’s standing job description be altered to limit his or her responsibilities to coordination of lobbying events and other relevant programming. This person should not be politically involved as a lobbyist – rather, this position supports OGR by planning and executing events, programs, and campaigns to promote student awareness and increase student involvement.
Whereas LSC currently assists the Legislative Coordinator in executing programs and events, a new legislative programming committee should be created to assist the Legislative Coordinator. LSC would resume its originally intended role of creating a legislative agenda and acting as a public oversight body for the Office of Government Relations as a whole.
To assist the OGR Director with actual political lobbying, GRTF recommend the creation of a new position of “Assistant Director”. The Assistant Director is not in full residence in Olympia as the Director is expected to be, but will share responsibilities between Seattle and Olympia.
One of the main objectives of the Assistant Director will be to further the ASUW’s relationship with the Washington Student Lobby (WSL). Currently, the Director is the sole ASUW representative in Olympia, occasionally supplemented by the ASUW President. The Graduate and Professional Student Senate (GPSS) Vice-President is also in Olympia regularly to help represent UW. Together, the OGR Director and the GPSS VP give UW better representation than most other colleges, but remarks from the current Director and GPSS VP reveal that despite their efforts, it has been difficult to pursue ASUW’s Legislative Agenda when so much of the total higher education lobbying efforts depend on the joint cooperation of WSL to be fully represented at the widest-possible array of hearings and meetings. The addition of the Assistant Director would allow for far improved ASUW participation and representation at WSL initiatives, and would increase the ASUW’s influence in formulation and execution of WSL lobbying positions.
The Assistant Director should also help increase ASUW’s lobbying efforts locally in Seattle and King County – this duty is currently neglected because of the large strains of effect representation in Olympia.
We also recommend the creation of a permanent Research Assistant. Currently, OGR Research Assistants are provided for only when need is demonstrated – for instance, in legislative budget years. We recommend that a student research assistant position be created that could be permanently devoted to producing information for ASUW lobbying efforts. Furthermore, we recommend that this position be funded together by ASUW and GPSS because the position would inevitably result in findings that would benefit joint lobbying efforts. The Research Assistant should be implemented as a member of the Student Policy Group (I’m not sure what this is really called…)
Proposed Legislative Agenda Changes
Informally, the OGR Director, President, BOD, and Senate leadership discuss and review the direction and possible drafts of the legislative agenda over summer. The Legislative Steering Committee will draft a new legislative agenda each year with the previous one active until it is approved by the Senate and BOD. One of the first items of business for the Senate will be to elect an LSC liaison to allow earlier drafting of the legislative agenda.
The Legislative Agenda is both an internal document that directs the actions of ASUW representatives and an external document to inform the public of student interests. The format should reflect this, stating clear the intent while at the same time adding flexibility for action. The Legislative Agenda is executed by the ASUW as a whole. The GRTF has come to the conclusion that the tier system would not improve the decision making and resource allocation of the student lobbyist and other officers of the ASUW, but rather requires consistent and improved decision making. Like other efforts, there are many things left to delegated discretion but discussion and collaborative decisions must be made on major and developing issues that require interpretation. The reporting practices of the lobbyist with the ASUW President and LSC. The determination of what constitutes major issues is the LSC’s and emergency meetings may be held when it is necessary. The interpretation of the document ultimately falls to them.
When the LSC approves a draft, it will be submitted to the BOD and Senate simultaneously for consideration. There will be one meeting for first readings and a meeting afterward for second readings of the document in both bodies. There can not be first and second readings in the same meeting. At the minimum the process, after submission by the LSC, will be two weeks long. Senate should set in its rules that the meetings to consider the Legislative Agenda be the only item of business. Each body may amend it as necessary to approve the document.
After each body approves the Legislative Agenda, delegated representatives from the Senate and Board of Directors will meet in a Resolution Conference to be chaired by the President and composed of:
- Vice-Chair of the Senate
- Two Senate Liaisons to LSC
- Director of Operations
- Director of FAA
- Director of Community Relations
- ASUW President
The Vice-Chair has been elected to the executive leadership of Senate and will thus bring Senate experience to the process. Additionally, as the Senate parliamentarian and liaison to the Board of Directors, the Vice-Chair brings a wealth of knowledge regarding the institutional processes of the ASUW and the experience of working with Board members. The other two Senate liaisons give the Senate direct control over who will represent them in the crafting of the Legislative Agenda and the resolution of differences. The Director of Operations serves on LSC while the other two directors are the liaisons to the Student Senate, creating a group of people used to working together.
The ASUW President will vote only in the case of a tie. A Resolution conference will occur regardless of congruence in the documents or lack of any discrepancies. In cases where the Legislative Director wishes to receive clarification on a point contained in the Legislative Agenda, the Director calls the ASUW President. If time allows, the ASUW President will call a meeting of the Resolution Conference to clarify the point; otherwise, the ASUW President will make a decision and subsequently report that decision to the Resolution Conference, who may vote to reverse the president’s interpretation by a simple majority. Such a reversal will only impact future lobbying efforts.
Senate elects LSC liaison as soon as possible
Legislative Agenda is considered concomitantly by Senate and Board; to encourage this, the Resolution Conference will be held to ensure both documents are the same each year.
The Senate should consider no items of business other than the Legislative Agenda during its consideration.
The Resolution Conference is charged with issuing interpretations of the Legislative Agenda; the President is empowered to make temporary interpretations.
Proposed Legislative Steering Committee Changes
The Government Relations Task Force was created to “…review the role, structure, and potential for improvement of the ASUW Office of Government Relations.” One explicit charge to the task force was to look at the relationship between the Legislative Steering Committee (LSC) and the Office of Government Relations. In our review, it has become clear that the lobbying efforts of the OGR are intimately tied with the function, and therefore composition of the LSC.
The ASUW Constitution stipulates that the Legislative Steering Committee coordinates the lobbying efforts of ASUW, interacts with state and national organizations working on higher ed, and publicizes issues of concern. Thus, since the duties are assigned to LSC and OGR is not actually mentioned in the Bylaws, the intent seems that currently the LSC is the coordinating body and OGR exists to carry out the will of the political bodies (being Senate and the Board). The task force discussed this issue at length and arrived at the general consensus that OGR should be the central conduit of student lobbying efforts, but exists to carry out the lobbying efforts of the Association as set forth by the Board and Senate.
Based on this, the task force discussed the role of OGR within the Association, particularly as it related to LSC. In general, the task force felt that LSC should be a body constituted by the Board and Senate, the governing bodies that set the course of lobbying efforts, with input from at-large students. To best facilitate this, the task force recommends an 11 voting-member Legislative Steering Committee composed of the following members:
- ASUW President
- 3 BoD Representatives to the Resolution Conference (Directors of FAA, Operations, and Community Relations)
- 3 Student Senate Representatives (Vice-Chair and 2 elected by the Senate)
- 4 At-Large Students (appted via open selection process)
- Legislative Coordinator (chair; non-voting)
- OGR Staff (non-voting)
- GPSS Representative (non-voting)
- SAO Advisor (non-voting)
This composition better reflects that the LSC is a body composed by Senate and the Board to coordinate lobbying activities while still maintaining the valuable input from individuals outside the ASUW structure. The task force felt it was important to have input from members of the OGR staff and GPSS, but not appropriate for them to have a vote on the committee. The members of the OGR are charged with carrying out the legislative agenda and thus it was felt it would be inappropriate for them to contribute to the political task of crafting the agenda. While the ASUW works closely with GPSS in our lobbying efforts and wants to maintain that relationship, allowing them a vote in the creation of the undergraduate legislative agenda was also inappropriate as their interests are not necessarily the same as those of undergraduate students.
The LSC will be in charge of creating a legislative agenda and proposing legislative directives, but will otherwise carry out a more limited role than currently prescribed. Bluntly, LSC serves only these two functions and can be called on an ad hoc basis during the school year. LSC will no longer interpret points of the Legislative Agenda; that is the responsibility of a Resolution Conference, called by the ASUW President.
In particular, the task force didn’t feel LSC should be the primary work group for the OGR and that instead, a separate Legislative Programming Committee (LPC) should be a standing committee of the ASUW that plans and executes OGR events (Lobby Day, Pre-Session Reception, Voter Registration, etc). The membership would consist of the 4 At-Large members of the LSC, the two elected senate representatives, the ASUW president and open membership appointed by the OGR Legislative Coordinator. The OGR Legislative Coordinator would serve as chair of the committee and would essentially maintain complete control of the committee. The advantages of shifting these duties are that the LPC would be more independence, free from the political constraints of Board and Senate representatives. Further, the committee must be given ready access to resources, whereas other committees typically face greater constraints.
- Restructure the membership of the LSC to better represent students
- Create a new Legislative Programming Committee to plan and execute events
- Who the lobbyist calls for clarification on the Leg Agenda.