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OSPIRG referendum approved

After much debate during their Saturday meeting, the Evaluation and Constitutional Review Committee (E&CR) approved a referendum presented by the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG).

If OSPIRG can collect signatures from at least 10 percent of the student body by Thursday, the referendum will appear on the March ballot for the upcoming ASPSU elections. It will ask students to support a nearly $2 increase in student fees that will go toward OSPIRG’s 2003-04 budget.

One of the biggest arguments during the meeting began when OSPIRG presented its revised referendum to the E&CR, an updated version of the draft that the E&CR had rejected in last Tuesday’s meeting.

Student Fee Committee (SFC) Chair Tracy Earll argued with OSPIRG’s use of the word “defund,” in reference to the SFC’s ruling earlier this year.

Earll argued that the SFC did not defund OSPIRG, but they zero-funded them. She also reminded OSPIRG that the SFC had offered them an approximately $21,000 reserve, so long as that money was used only for the group’s on-campus activities.

OSPIRG had turned down the offer. Members claimed that accepting such terms would mean becoming something other than OSPIRG.

“We work as part of a statewide organization,” said OSPIRG campus organizer Kari Koch.

Earll said that this was largely the reason the SFC zero-funded the group.

“Our fees can only be used for on-campus activities,” Earll explained, citing SFC rules that regulate how student fees can be used.

OSPIRG did not, in the SFC’s opinion, meet these criteria.

Before the E&CR could even discuss accepting the wording of OSPIRG’s referendum, there were debates over whether the referendum process should even be allowed.

The E&CR referred to multiple Supreme Court rulings in which the referendum process was discussed in relation to the allocation of student fees at public universities.

None of the Supreme Court cases, however, appeared to have made an actual ruling concerning the legality of referendums, although it is possible that one will be made in the near future.

ASPSU adviser Elaine Vance said she had spoken with Student Legal Services, which would not attempt any interpretations of the Supreme Court Cases until at least Feb. 26.

Vance’s advice was that if the E&CR approved the referendum, OSPIRG could take “an educated risk” in the collection of signatures that would allow the referendum to appear on the March ballot.

Some members of the E&CR, particularly Nathan Pawlicki, were still concerned over the Supreme Court cases. He did not want to approve something that might be against a ruling.

“We haven’t found anything that says the referendum process is illegal,” said E&CR member Annie Stewart, also pointing out that the ASPSU constitution supports the referendum process and should stand.

“They (OSPIRG) are using the process as it’s meant to be used,” Stewart added.

The E&CR voted 2 to 1 to approve the referendum, with one abstention, E&CR chair and SFC member Amara Marino.

OSPIRG hopes to collect 3000 signatures by Thursday, intending to surpass the constitutional minimum to ensure the question is on the March ballot.

Koch said she expects “strategic, well-funded opposition,” but still feels optimistic about OSPIRG’s chances.

“We’ll do whatever we can,” she said. “We want to be on this campus.”