Oregon lawmakers are being pressured to support House Bill (HB) 3012, which would clarify the power of student governments over student incidental fees used to fund a variety of campus programs and services.
Incidental fees are collected each term and are allocated towards different student programs by the elected student government.
The Legislative Director of a nonprofit for student advocacy called the Oregon Student Association, Emily Wanous, told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) that the incidental fee has been proven to help students cater to their needs on campus.
“The student-controlled incidental fee is the only money which students pay to institutions and then have democratic student control over the expenditure of,” Wanous explained. “Our work shows time and time again that the only way students get their needs met on campus is when they’re given a voice and given power.”
OPB also reported that State Rep Paul Evans, one of the chief sponsors of HB 3012, expressed his concern regarding the role of institutions in incidental fee use to a House Committee on Education meeting.
“Institutions, who have differing priorities of students sometimes, have played a larger and larger role in determining how these incidental fees are expended,” he said. “I think it’s time that we actually clarify … the power of the student government over their own tax dollars.”
Student Funding and Services Amid COVID-19
A delay in the distribution of student fees at Western Oregon University last year was a major incentive for creation of the bill. One point that needed clarification concerned which entity could decide the collection of student fees and how it would be spent on vital campus services.
In an earlier article by OPB, Executive Director of the Oregon Student Association, Andrew Rogers, pointed out that student leaders would not be able to fully exercise their right to control spending decisions if administrators chose to delay it.
“Much of the problem is that the law as written now provides the opportunity for an institution to ‘pocket veto’ the student fee through inaction and enough delays,” Rogers said.
A “pocket veto” is a political term that refers to the power of a president or governor to indirectly veto a legislative bill by not signing it until it is too late for it to be dealt with.
President of the Associated Students of Western Oregon University, NJ Johnson, also pointed out to OPB that services which would be funded by incidental fees were more crucial than ever because of the pandemic.
“Things like the food pantry, different advocacy groups, different culture-based groups on campus and student government, and also student jobs that they rely on to pay their rent and buy groceries and stay engaged in campus life when we’re all really disconnected right now.”