Frankfort files bills to increase student voice in government

(From The Louisville Cardinal)

By Rae Hodge–

FRANKFORT – The voice of U of L students could be getting louder in Kentucky state government. Currently, two bills are filed in the Kentucky House of Representatives and the Kentucky Senate which aim to add university student input to the legislative process regarding postsecondary education policies.

The first of the two bills, House Bill 316, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Quarles, R-Georgetown, would establish a board of Student Body Presidents which would include the student body president of each 4 year public university in Kentucky, one regent from the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, and one student president representing the Association of Independent Kentucky Colleges and Universities.

This board would serve as an advisory panel to the legislative and executive branches of Kentucky state government, regarding postsecondary education issues and student concerns. At least once a year, the board would meet with the Council on Postsecondary Education and the Advisory Conference of Presidents.

Co-sponsor of HB 316 Rep. Reginald Meeks, D-Louisville, also serves as the Associate Director in the Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office at U of L. Meeks talked about the origins of the bill in an interview with the Louisville Cardinal.

“This bill came about when I was speaking to students here in the Capitol two years ago,” said Meeks, “and I observed to Rep. Quarles that the numbers appeared to be dropping of those who were here for lobby day. He and I then began to have discussions about this.”

Discussing the gravity that the legislation could lend to student body elections at U of L, Meeks said, “We believe it will and we hope it will. Students have so much to lose or gain by the decisions that are made here in Frankfort,” adding, “I want our students to become more knowledgeable and active in our discussion about postsecondary education.”

HB 316 appears on the schedule for the 2012 session of the General Assembly, along with Senate Bill 111, sponsored by Sen. Alice Kerr, R-Lexington, although Meeks said that bills were separate initiatives. SB 111 would add one non-voting student member to each university’s board of trustees, the Executive Vice President in U of L’s case. The non-voting members are also required to complete an orientation program, and can not serve more than 2 consecutive terms.

Speaking on SB111, Kerr estimates that although it came up in the Senate during 2011, the session clock ran out before it could gain traction.“But what we decided is that there are so many thousands and thousands of students, especially like in the University of Louisville’s case, that it would be good to have that representation to double for at least the student population,” said Kerr, “We have the faculty represented and the staff, and lots and lots of students. And that was the rationale behind it.”

According to Kerr, the idea of board-level student input can be traced to one senate intern from the University of Kentucky. “He had come and talked to me about whether I would I carry it for him,” Kerr said, “and we are hoping that we can get it heard.”

SB 111 and HB 316 have not been introduced into their respective chambers or assigned to committees at time of press.

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