January 30, 1995 in Nation/World

Legislation Evokes Mixed Responses Bill Would Apply Open-Meetings Law To College Student Governments

Joe Relk Staff writer

A bill to force college student governments to abide by the state’s open-meetings law is being criticized by some legislators as unnecessary regulation.

“Why come to us when we’re trying to reduce government?” asked Rep. Sylvia McKeeth, R-Boise.

The bill passed the House last week on a 58-11 vote and is headed to the Senate. Last year, that’s where it died.

Sponsored by Rep. Maynard Miller, R-Moscow, the bill would add student government to the openmeetings law’s definition of “public agency.” Student governments could meet privately, but all decisions, actions and votes would have to take place in public.

“They make important decisions that need to be made in the full light of day,” Miller argued on the House floor.

Many universities have larger populations than small Idaho towns which must abide by the law, he noted.

The University of Idaho student government handles a budget of more than $1 million and funds the campus newspaper and radio station, Miller said.

“If you’re going to spend for 10,000 people, those 10,000 ought to know what it is you’re going to do and how you’re going to pay for it,” he said.

The bill was requested by University of Idaho students.

“We don’t want a student senator to take our money and use it without us knowing about it,” said Sean Strictler, a UI student and lobbyist in Boise. “It’s a question of accountability.”

An incident at the university several years ago prompted the students’ concern, even though the university has its own open-meetings policy.

The student body president fired the student attorney general during a hastily called meeting without first notifying the student press or the student body. Students protested, Miller said, and student government leaders decided they had handled the incident poorly. They then asked Miller to sponsor the bill.

Rep. Twila Hornbeck, R-Grangeville, said she opposes the bill on the grounds that funds for student government come primarily from student fees, rather than from state coffers.

“I find it hard that we as a Legislature are telling them what to do with private funds,” Hornbeck said.

North Idaho College student newspaper adviser Nils Rosdahl said NIC student government hasn’t restricted access to its meetings. He said if student government anywhere in the state doesn’t operate according to the open-meetings law, it should.

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