Abigail Thomas, legislative intern for the group Associated Students of the University of Missouri, said she is at the Capitol two days a week to advocate for UM System students on four specific issues. She said the four issues are getting a student vote on the UM System Board of Curators, encouragement for students to major in STEM-research programs, funding for the UM System, and relations between landlords and student tenants.
ASUM legislative director Corbin Evans said students from all four UM System schools came to the Capitol on Thursday and said that each issue has legislation filed at the Capitol.
Evans said students need to express their opinions on issues that impact them.
"It's an important time, whether it be with the budget or some of our other issues, to have student' voices be heard by their legislators," Evans said.
Rep. Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, said she encourages students to come to the Capitol because the issues students face are different then the issues of her average constituents.
"When I can put a name and a face to an issue then it's a lot easier for me to advocate for that issue," McCann Beatty said.
Thomas said the student organization has been pushing for a student curator with the ability to vote in Board of Curators meetings since 1975.
She said she thinks that the organization has made a lot of progress by gaining the right for a student representative to attend closed meetings but said ASUM is now fighting for a student vote. University of Missouri-Kansas City student Amy Johnson is the current student representative on the Board of Curators and attends meetings but currently has no voting power.
"Students are the largest stakeholders in the University of Missouri's budget," Thomas said.
She said the state of Missouri used to be the largest stakeholder of the UM System but said that has changed in the last couple of decades.
"Students' tuition is now paying for more of the budget than the state," Thomas said.
She said this increased stakeholder ownership is reason enough for students to have a vote on the Board of Curators.
Similar legislation passed the General Assembly in 2008 but then-Gov. Matt Blunt vetoed the bill.
A main concern of having a student curator with voting power is that students are basically shareholders of the UM System and some say giving them a vote is a business-like transaction. Another concern is that students won't have the time or the experience in their two-year term to make educated votes on issues.
Beatty said she doesn't see why having a student vote on the Board of Curators would be an issue.
"It's one vote and therefore I don't see the harm in allowing that student to vote to represent the student body," Beatty said.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, is the sponsoring a bill that would make the ninth member of the Board of Curators a student with voting power. The bill hasn't been assigned to a legislative committee.
Thomas also said students are fighting for legislation that would encourage more students to major in science, technology, engineering, and mathematic fields.
"There's supposed to be a huge increase in jobs in Missouri in those fields in the next decade," Thomas said. "So we're hoping to produce quality students that are highly educated in those fields so they can fill those jobs."
Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-St. Louis County, is sponsoring a bill that would create tax credits for employers who hire students with a major in STEM fields. The bill hasn't advanced to a committee.
Thomas said the student organization also advocates for funding for the UM System in the state budget. Evans said the budget is a "trickle-down effect."
"If the state decreases the amount of appropriations that the University of Missouri System has, they actually have to make up that difference," Evans said. "A lot of the times that difference is made up by raising tuition."
A bill sponsored by Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, would base higher education funding on performance standards. The UM System would see an increase with this type of funding as would many other Missouri Higher Education institutios. The Senate Education Committee passed the bill on Thursday and it now goes to the full Senate floor.
The fourth issue the student organization group advocates for is landlord-tenant relations. Thomas said the organization works to promote the rights of students as tenants and educate students about these rights.
McCann Beatty is sponsoring a bill that would give a tenant twice the original amount of their social security deposit if a landlord wrongfully withholds that deposit after the lease ends. She said this bill doesn't completely address the concerns the UM System students have about landlord-tenant relations but said she is working to come up with a solution for those concerns. She said part of the problem is that students need to be more educated.
"You should go in and do an inspection with the landlord at the beginning and take photos with the landlord there," McCann Beatty said. "And then go in and do an inspection with the landlord at the end and take photos so you can show that there was no damage to the apartment."