Members of this university’s SGA plan to lobby in the upcoming Annapolis legislative session for more affordable higher education tuition and an intern protection bill.
Student Government Association President Patrick Ronk said the governing body lobbies every year but created a task force this semester to increase participation and lobbying presence in the capital.
“In past years, we’ve done a really good job lobbying, but lobbying was mostly restricted to [the president and director of governmental affairs],” said Ronk, a junior government and politics major. “With this task force, we’ve created a group of us that is fully going to be in Annapolis, so every single day of the week, we will have an SGA member in Annapolis to lobby on the budget. … This hasn’t been the case in the past.”
The lobbying task force will include six members: Ronk, Director of Governmental Affairs Luke Pinton, Chief of Staff Jonathan Levi, Director of City Affairs Cole Holocker, Deputy Director of Governmental Affairs Jake Kotler and SGA representative Kyle Vaughan.
Despite an anticipated $300 million shortfall of state revenue this fiscal year, projected to grow to $650 next fiscal year, and university President Wallace Loh’s announcement Wednesday of a campuswide hiring and construction freeze, Pinton said the task force wants to ensure that tuition costs remain affordable for students.
The task force is also lobbying on behalf of a bill that would protect interns in the state from harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
Ronk said Samantha Zwerling, former SGA president and 2014 university alumna, proposed the idea for the intern protection bill, which exists in Oregon, Washington, New York and New York City to the state Senate president’s office last year after hearing about the bill’s passage in Oregon in 2013.
“She brought it [to the office] and she said, ‘I think this could be a really good bill for a delegate or a senator to introduce so that we can close these loopholes around intern harassment in Maryland,’” Ronk said.
Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery) and Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Montgomery), sponsored the bill, which died in committee last year. The bill would have allowed interns to seek protection from discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
“[Interns] shouldn’t feel any less protected just because they’re working for a private company, often times at no cost to the company at all,” said Holocker, a sophomore government and politics major. “As an important part of any business entity — or government entity even — interns should be protected from harassment like anyone else.”
To further increase the strength of their lobbying, the task force said it plans to market itself and get more students and groups involved, especially in large lobbying efforts such as the University System of Maryland lobby day, during which system students rally together, and Terrapin Pride Day, an annual lobbying day led by this university.
“We have a big lobby day with all of the schools [in this state] where we try to bring other students out, and we also have a big rally in Annapolis, and we really want to keep doing that; we want to make it bigger and better,” Ronk said. “But we also want to include students in our day-to-day lobbying … making sure students can always come down to Annapolis with us.”
Holocker said increased student participation would give further validity to the causes the SGA supports.
“We need people who can share stories; while we have invested interest in this, we know that these things don’t only affect SGA,” Holocker said. “They affect every student on campus, and we need every student on campus who has an engaged interest in this to join us and come to Annapolis, and that’s what this effort will do.”
Levi, a junior government and politics major, said these continuous meetings are the key to successful lobbying.
“Our faces are recognized,” Levi said. “We’re meeting with all the right people, all the necessary committees to move the bills forward.”