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They’re just some bills: Round-up of this legislative sessions’ bills effecting higher education

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Pictured above is the Arizona State Capitol building. During the last legislative session, multiple bills pertaining to higher education were debated on and either passed on to the governor, or shelved.

Every year a number of bills are introduced in the Arizona State Legislature that directly impact the University of Arizona and the student experience on campus.

Because of this, the UA and Arizona Board of Regents, the governing body for the three public universities in the state, lobby at the state legislature. 

These efforts range from university-sponsored events, like “Cats at the Capitol” where UA students advocate for UA at the state capitol, to the yearlong work of a team of in-house government relations specialists. Occasionally, the regents and university presidents themselves or student leaders take the trip up to Phoenix to personally meet with legislators.

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Want to know what bills affecting the UA and its students have worked their way through the state legislature this term? Some of the most critical and interesting bills are spotlighted below: 

House Bill 2172: Non-lethal Weapons on campus

This bill would prohibit the UA from banning the possession of nonlethal weapons by students or community members on campus. A nonlethal weapon is defined as one that has a low probability of causing death or permanent injury. 

The bill was initially introduced in response to concerns of sexual violence on campus, allowing individuals to carry pepper spray and other mechanisms of self-defense previous banned on campus.

The regents came out in opposition to the bill believing the definition of nonlethal weapons stopped the UA from banning a wide array of devices that could negatively impact campus safety, such as tasers or rubber bullets. 

Status: The bill passed the House 35-22 and is currently working its way through the Senate 

House Bill 2563: Free Expression policies 

This bill seeks to protect freedom of speech on college campuses. The bill mandates UA not restrict individuals on campus excising their free speech unless they engage in violence, threats, or disruptive behavior.

The bill requires UA to create a committee to monitor free speech activities on campus and report to the legislature. 

The bill says any speaker invited to UA is welcomed and UA should provide for their security and take disciplinary actions against students who attempt to deny an individual their right to free speech. 

The regents have not opposed the bill but ABOR President Eileen Klein did argue sometimes efforts to increase free speech on college campuses by legislators actually inadvertently curtail free speech. 

Status: The bill passed the Senate 17-13 and the House 34-23 and is now awaiting AZ Governor Doug Ducey’s signature. 

Senate Bill 1422: Tuition and Fees

This bill requires the regents’ vote to approve all changes to the tuition and fees at UA. Before the regents only had to vote on tuition increases, differential tuition, and mandatory fee increases at the UA. They will now vote to approve class fees and other fees before under the sole jurisdiction of the UA.

The regents were opposed to this bill for the additional workload it would place on the board. The bill also creates separate sub-accounts for university tuition and fees that would be subject to state appropriations. 

Status: The bill was passed by the House 48-11 and the Senate 30-0 and signed by Governor Ducey into law.

House Bill 2475: Tuition for Arizona National Guard 

This bill would approve the use of close to $1.5 million from the state general fund to pay for the tuition and fees waiver for Arizona National Guard Members attending UA and the other public universities. 

The bill was meant to help revive the National Guard Postsecondary Education Reimbursement Program which hasn’t received state funding since 2009.

The regents support this bill. They support tuition waivers passed by the legislature if they are accompanied by the necessary funding. 

Status: The bill remains in the House. 

House Bill 2110: Devolving University Governance 

The bill did not focus on UA or the regents until in the Senate Natural Resources, Water, and Energy Committee an amendment thought up by Rep. Mark Finchem was added. The amendment, which passed in committee, would dissolve the Arizona Board of Regents and establish an individual governing board for each of the three Arizona public universities.

The regents strongly oppose an effort to dissolve the body and expressed frustration with efforts by the legislature to dissolve the body which seeks to fulfill Arizona’s constitutional requirement to keep college tuition as free as possible. 

Status: This bill is passed the House 37-22 and is working its way through the Senate. 

House Bill 2482: Foster Care Tuition Waiver 

The bill would provide tuition waivers to children who were in Arizona’s foster care program more than six months and meet a series of other requirements. 

The regents support the spirit of the bill but have stated they want all tuition waiver requests from the legislature to also come with the funding to fulfill that request, otherwise the UA is left to somehow find the money in its current budget. 

Status: This bill was passed by the House and is working its way through the Senate.

House Bill 2280: University Land Use and Leasing 

This bill requires the regents to approve all new land leasing agreements of UA and the other universities and prohibits the leasing of land for nonacademic, commercial purposes.

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The regents opposed the measure believing it restricts entrepreneurship and innovation by Arizona’s universities.  

Status: This bill is working its way through the House. 

Want to stay informed on the progress of these bills? The Arizona State Legislatures website and LegiScan allow citizens to track and follow legislation. The regents, the UA and its students will continue to lobby the legislature on the bills above and ones yet to be written in the coming year. 

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