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An open letter from Ashlyn Salzman, Director of Legislative Affairs

The Washington State legislative session convened on January 12, and it has certainly not slowed down since then. As the Director of Legislative Affairs for the Associated Students of WSU Vancouver, I have had the privilege of spending the days a week in Olympia as a registered student lobbyist. As a group, the individuals who serve in my position on the other WSU campuses and myself set a legislative agenda for the 2015 session. This includes key issues effecting students such as college affordability, a proposal for a WSU Medical School in Spokane, the implementation of remote testimony, and the passage of a “sip and spit” bill which would allow college student minors to fully participate in wine science classes. It is my job to meet with legislators on a regular basis and testify in support or opposition of bills, which affect students on our campus.

Getting to know the policymakers of the legislature is one of the most important things that student lobbyists must do in order to ensure their issues gain traction. Unlike many lobbyists and interest groups, which have been around for decades, student lobbyists change each and every year. The work of building relationships with legislators began way back in August, when you may recall we held Floats for Votes, a voter registration event which almost all of our county legislators attended. Additionally, WSU Vancouver has faced barriers in filling the position for a student to be in Olympia on a regular basis in the past. It has been especially important to assert that WSU Vancouver is at the Capitol and has a voice just as loud as the other campuses.

In addition to our WSU legislative agenda, the student lobbyist from Pullman and I work with eight other student lobbyists as part of the Washington Student Association. This group adds power to our cause at the Capitol because we are most effective when we collaborate and share responsibilities. There are 147 legislators and only ten of us, so the method of divide-and-conquer has worked really well to ensure we meet with as many members as possible. With this group, we also monitor many higher education related issues such as bills to limit the cost of textbooks, increasing voter registration access, and identifying sources of funding for higher education which make college more accessible and affordable for all of us.

As mentioned, the most important legislative priority for all of our campuses is college affordability. Within the 5 years between 2007 and 2012, tuition doubled in cost. The state has gone from subsidizing about 60% of a college education to just 30% in the time it takes the average student to get a bachelor’s degree. This has resulted in increased levels of student debt.

In the past two years, the legislature held tuition at a flat rate. This is extremely important and helpful to students and their families in planning to pay for their education. I think this issue is particularly crucial for students on our campus, many of whom chose WSU Vancouver because it was the most affordable option for their situation but offers the same quality of education as anywhere in the state. There is a lot of pride in the tuition freeze of years past, and this is something that many members of the legislature look forward to doing for students in our state again.

State budgets operate on a two-year cycle, and although we have heard from Representatives and Senators alike that higher education should be a priority in the budget because it is a valuable investment, the state faces many other budget obligations. We just passed an important milestone in the legislative session where all policy bills had to be out of their respective committees in order to continue in the process of going from a bill to a law. Now, we move into the phase where legislators vote on those bills and finally, we will start to hear some actual numbers and figures being proposed for a state budget.

Though we do not know what portion of the approximately $37 billion budget will be allocated to higher education, we hope for reinvestment in a service that has been on the chopping block for many years.

Stay tuned for more updates from Olympia, and feel free to contact me at aswsuv.dla@vancouver.wsu.edu with any questions about policy, politics, and legislative affairs. Subscribe for updates on WSU’s legislative priorities at www.wsuimpact.org

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