UNF officials announced May 11, the Activity and Services (A&S) fee, the $4.4 million in student fees UNF allocates to Student Government (SG), would no longer be used to fund a student government lobbyist.
According to UNF lobbyist Janet Owen, there was a complaint regarding a student lobbyist sent to the University of Central Florida’s SG. She alerted President Delaney and senior staff of the situation at UCF. Student Government at UCF did not respond to multiple contacts from Spinnaker Media.
“The [UCF] president received a complaint that A&S fees shouldn’t be used for a student government lobbyist,” said Owen.
Owen said lawyers from the universities advised officials to pull lobbyist funding from student fees to stay within the law.
“The lawyers for all twelve institutions actually talked and collaborated to see what the safe way was moving forward,” said Owen.
There was a series of decisions that contradicted each other over the course of 38 years.
Owen said a Florida Attorney General interpretation from 1975 allowed Student Governments to spend money on lobbyists. However, Florida laws read that state funds cannot be used to hire lobbyists. A 2013 Florida Supreme Court decision ruled that Activity and Services fees are, in fact, state funds. Therefore, student government’s cannot hire lobbyists from student fees.
“So there’s been new developments since the 1975 AG opinion. The laws have changed so you have to stay within the law,” Owen said.
In July 2015, A bill was proposed by then-SG President Shomari Gloster a and Vice President Hailey Guerra to hire a lobbyist solely for student government. The bill passed in summer 2015 9-0-2, but was struck down due to a clerical error. Two weeks later, 13 senators successfully passed the bill. Guerra and Wilson did not respond for comment on this bill.
Former Student Government President Matthew Brockelman was hired to represent UNF SG interests in Tallahassee on a 10-month contract for $50,000 with an additional $10,500 for travel. Brockelman worked in a similar capacity for SG during the 2013-2014 school year.
Brockelman visited the SG Senate once during the 2015-16 school year. At the March 21 Senate meeting, he addressed senators on the bill that would have allowed concealed carry on campus and UNF acquiring funds for renovations to Skinner-Jones Hall.
The remaining $15,000 of Brockelman’s contract will be paid by the Division of Student Affairs, to avoid funding the lobbyist with student fees. Brockelman could not be reached for comment.
Budget and Allocations Chair Chris Jordan was a new senator when he voted on the bill. He said events didn’t turn out like he expected them to.
“I suffered the same sticker-shock that everyone else did. It looked like a good idea at the time because the basic logic made sense,” said Jordan. “Students could have different interests pertaining to the state government than the university itself.”
He said the results were disappointing, but he wasn’t specific to what.
“Yes I did support it. Has my opinion shifted since then? Yes. I don’t think it did go well as I expected, but I’m not assigning blame to anybody,” said Jordan.
But Jordan said SG did address the lack of senators voting on large amounts of money, with what he referred to as “Law of 15.” SG now has to have at least 15 members present to approve special requests larger than $15,000 over summer semesters.
“That was kind of our fix,” Jordan said.
Could the lobbyist return? Owen said it could, depending on the administration, just not from tuition and fees.
“I’ve never seen anything wrong with it and we’ve never had a conflict,” said Owen.
Current SG President Caleb Grantham said the directive from the university made the SG lobbyist situation clear.
“We’re not spending A&S fees [on lobbying] in the future,” he said.
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