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Student fee bill mauled in committee

Salem – College students packed into a hearing room in the State House Building Friday to hear testimony on a bill requested by the Oregon Federation of College Republicans that would keep student fee money from paying membership dues to “political or advocacy groups.”

Ironically, such groups would include local chapters of the Oregon College Republicans, several of which currently receive student funding, as well as the Oregon Student Association (OSA), a non-partisan group that lobbies on behalf of Oregon students and “strenuously opposes” the bill.

“I think that by passing a bill like (this one) you just limit the democratic process on campus,” said Miriam Gonzalez, OSA state affairs director at Portland State University.

Representatives of the Oregon University System (OUS) also voiced opposition to the proposed bill.

“Passage of this bill would send a chilling message on academic freedom to other institutions across the country,” said OUS Chancellor Richard Jarvis. Another OUS representative called the ambiguous wording of the bill “an invitation to litigation.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Linda Flores (R-Clackamas), was written by Ron Herbison, a College Republican at Eastern Oregon University now serving as chief-of-staff for Rep. Greg Smith (R-Heppner). Although amended, the bill initially drew fire because as originally worded it would have prevented student fees from being used for membership fees of any type, effectively ending NCAA sports across Oregon.

In its revised form, the bill would curtail the power of “ominous, off-campus organizations where students don’t know where their dollars are being spent,” said Oregon Federation of College Republicans President Lee Vasche, who cited the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group as one such organization.

Other Oregon College Republicans, however, did their best to distance themselves from the bill.

Naomi Heinz, vice president of the Oregon Federation of College Republicans testified that the bill was “a very bad idea.” Heinz said most Oregon Federation of College Republicans board members hadn’t even heard about the bill until after it had been written.

Jason Thelen, a College Republican and vice president of the Southern Oregon University student body, told lawmakers that the student funding process has been upheld as legal by a unanimous Supreme Court vote.

The bill “simply ties the hands of elected representatives at a time when what students need most is vigorous representation,” Thelen said.

Even Smith stopped short of supporting the bill. Instead, he told committee members that his fondest memory of serving as an intern was working on a piece of legislation, an opportunity he was happy to pass on to his chief-of-staffer Herbison.

Committee members did not take Smith’s remarks kindly, however, and one of them, Rep. Kelly Wirth (D-Corvallis), complained about the committee’s valuable time being taken up by what she termed “an intern’s pet project.”

It seems unlikely the bill will ever reach the house floor.

As students, many wearing stickers opposing the bill, exited the hearing en masse, they were cautioned by legislators to make as little noise as possible.

“Cheer outside,” quipped one.