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Bill drops 'GLBT' language

Authors broaden scope of funding legisltion

Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 03:04

finance

Jade Bedell

The verbiage and title of “The GLBT Funding Opt-Out Bill” was amended Tuesday at a Student Senate finance committee session to avoid singling out the GLBT Resource Center.

Under the new title — “The Religious Funding Exemption Bill” — the four new bill authors said the goal of the amendments was to expand on a current refunding system already in place.

Christopher Russo, aerospace engineering graduate student, new co-author of the bill and speaker of the 66th session of Student Senate, said he had a problem with the bill singling out one group in particular. He said the original intent of the bill was to be a safeguard for the future of religious rights for all groups at Texas A&M.

“My problem was that by singling out one group, you aren’t speaking to the principle of the matter,” Russo said. “The biggest thing is that this is a legal matter and something that is held dear both in the federal constitution and in the state constitution.”

Changes made to the bill during committee deliberation included the addition of three enactment clauses and changes to the preamble to encompass more than just the GLBT Resource Center.

The added second enactment clause requests that students be provided with specific instructions and an electronic form of communicating religious disagreements at the time of tuition and fee payment.

“What this is saying is that when you are scrolling through and paying for your tuition, that there be a link for religious disagreement exemptions ... and it would take you to the email process,” said Christopher Woolsey, sophomore political science major and original author of the bill.

The new third and fourth enactment clauses ask the University to respond in a timely manner to students who request refunds and, if a request is deemed valid, to efficiently refund the student the amount in question.

Woolsey said while current measures are in place to allow religiously objecting students to opt out of certain funds, the system is not easily maneuvered and the amendments were an attempt to address this difficulty. Woolsey said the current mechanism is unresponsive and unwieldy for the average student and that the bill only makes the system more accessible and accountable.

Recently elected senator and freshman business major Joseph Benigno said he thought the bill was a bad idea before seeing the proposed amendments. Benigno said it would be a better idea to completely do away with the old version and bring up the amended version of the bill later in the 66th session so that the bill would not carry media-hyped controversy and stigma.

“The only problem I have left with this bill is that it has already made so much news and headlines about it being a GLBT bill that this rebranding of it — and I think this is how the bill totally should have originally been proposed — will make passing it look like a cheap guard to protect ourselves from being branded as attacking the GLBT community,” Benigno said.

In response, Scott Bowen, senior chemical engineering major and current speaker of Senate, said the goal of committee sessions is to bring the bills to their best form, not to strategically kill bills.

“It doesn’t matter who wrote it, it matters what it says,” Bowen said.

Russo furthered this idea and said the objectives of Senate are not to yield to the pressures of media headlines, but to be responsive to the issues and provide information for the truth to come out.

“I don’t think bad press should be a reason to not do something,” Russo said.

Cary Cheshire, junior political science major and one of the co-authors of the bill, said the amended structure of the bill comes as a response to student and community input to the bill as originally proposed.

“I think this really demonstrates that we are listening to our constituents and we’ve heard their concerns if we pass this bill out now,” Cheshire said.

Patrick O'Neal, sophomore nuclear engineering major, expressed concern that non-religiously identifying students who would choose to opt out of certain funds based on a “moral compass” may not be represented in the bill as originally amended. Committee senators agreed to further amend the bill to support allowing students to opt out for “religious and moral purposes.”

The bill will be reintroduced in Wednesday’s Senate meeting and will potentially be voted on. Before any Senate discussion on the topic, anyone who shows up to the meeting can share their opinion during open forum in Koldus 144 at 7 p.m.  

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