MSU Wild

Students walk through campus against on a clear day Jan. 19 at Montana State.

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Lobbyists for Montana University System students are focused on a few key bills that have already made waves in Helena.

Priorities for student lobbyists include a range of issues including the university system’s budget, mental health support, a bill that would pave the way for concealed carry on campuses and another focused on transgender athletes.

Allison Reinhardt, a lobbyist for the Montana Associated Students, said she is honored to be the voice of over 40,000 students.

“Students have a wide array of opinions on different bills coming in, and I’m here to lend my voice so the Legislature knows what students want,” she said.

Reinhardt, who is in her third week in Helena, said the legislature started the session off quickly, with a lot of significant bills coming through early.

“It’s definitely up and running,” she said.

The Montana Association of Students has identified five priorities for this legislative session. They include increasing overall unrestricted funds for the institution, funding for long range building projects, support survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, support mental health services for students, especially veterans and support basic student rights like food security and renter protection.

Reinhardt, who is in her final semester at MSU, said she has been particularly focused on House Bill 102, which would expand concealed carry onto college campuses. The bill is seen by many in the university setting as overriding the Board of Regents’ authority, and a danger to students and staff.

She said she has gotten a lot of calls and questions from students on it.

“Some students have said if this bill becomes a law they might consider transferring schools. Others are coming forward about being victims of gun violence… There’s a lot of personal stories that have come about.”

One student from MSU reached out to see how she could help lead opposition on the bill. Reinhardt, who sees her job as an information point person, has shown many students how they can provide written or public testimony.

After passing the House of Representatives last week, HB 102 will be in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning. Reinhardt said she expects many students to provide testimony during the hearing.

Rachel Schmidt, the lobbyist for the Associated Students of Montana State University, said she has also been paying attention to HB 102. Historically, ASMSU has opposed previous versions of the bill but Schmidt, who’s a recent graduate of MSU, said there are several different perspectives among students on campus.

“This bill represents an opportunity for both dialogue and civic engagement,” she said.

Schmidt said she has helped equip students with the resources should they decide to take action as individuals.

On Monday, Reinhardt and Schmidt both testified in opposition to House Bill 112, which targets transgender athletes.

The bill, introduced by Rep. John Fuller, R-Kalispell, would ban transgender girls and young women from competing on women’s sports teams from kindergarten to the college level.

“A lot of students oppose this bill for a lot of individual reasons,” Schmidt said.

As the representative of almost 17,000 MSU students, Schmidt said it was her job to communicate to the legislators that students don’t want that bill on campus. She said she worked with students, faculty and staff on campus to mobilize against it.

In addition to specific bills, Schmidt said she has priories from ASMSU she is monitoring, including university funding, mental health, expansion of diversity and inclusion on campus and housing.

While there are no current bills focused on housing, she said it remains a priority for a lot of MSU students since the majority of them live off campus.

Another bill Reinhardt is tracking is House Bill 114, which would allow recordings of physical or mental abuse to be used in court. She said it could support victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, and she was in favor of its passage.

Overall, Schmidt said ASMSU is seeing students are interested and want to be involved in the legislative process.

Both Schmidt and Reinhardt said it was their job to ensure those students had the tools and information to convey their individual points of view.

“As students, we want the Legislature to know why higher education is important to us, and that’s part of my job, to show the value of higher education,” Reinhardt said.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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