The legislative session for 2015 is now officially in session, and dozens of bills have been introduced that pertain to the University of Hawaii and its students. The Graduate Student Organization (GSO) has selected those that it feels are most relevant to students and could require testimony either in support or opposition.
These bills propose an amendment to an existing statute that would allow graduate students the right to unionization. “As many of the problems we face as graduate students pertain to compensation, grievances, and job security, we strongly support these bills,” according to an official position put out by GSO. “Winning the right to collectively bargain would increase the ability of graduate students to work toward improving their own situations without fear of retaliation.”
On Feb. 12, the House Committee on Higher Education (HED) unanimously passed the HB553 unamended. On the Senate side, SB638 passed the higher education committee and the Committee on Judiciary and Labor on Feb. 5. Senator Sam Slom was the sole “no” vote in both committees.
These bills propose to add three voting members to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents to represent undergraduate students, research faculty, and other faculty. They would also convert the existing student member to specifically represent graduate students. “We support this because it would substantially increase the student voice in system-level government of UH,” says GSO.
SB636 was referred to committee but has not had a hearing yet, while HB552 was also unanimously passed out of the HED on Feb. 10.
This bill establishes and funds an ombuds office at UH Manoa. Ombuds offices typically handle individuals’ workplace grievances/complaints, especially in administrative affairs. “UH had one in the past, but it was cut several years ago for reasons unknown to us,” says GSO. “As a result, we do not have a safe and acceptable method for filing and handling grievances, and many students have significant difficulty filing complaints and often choose not to do so. We therefore strongly support this bill.”
HB96 was unanimously passed with amendments out of the HED on Feb. 5.
This bill would prohibit the Board of Regents from going into executive session while evaluating the performance of chancellors or the president. “This would enhance transparency when it comes to evaluating and hiring/firing of top-level administrators,” says GSO. “The debacle of Chancellor Apple’s termination is just one example that illustrates the need for greater transparency in this regard.”
SB823 was referred to committee but has not yet had a hearing.
This bill would mandate that any (undergraduate) program that is not ‘self-sustaining’ and graduates fewer than ten students per year for three consecutive years be cut from the university in order to balance the budget. To see a list of potentially affected programs, click here.
SB397 / HB457
These bills would ensure funding for Title IX compliance. “If we are to be totally compliant with Title IX, state funding is likely necessary to avoid cuts in other areas of the university,” says GSO.
The Senate committees on higher education and on judiciary and labor have scheduled a public hearing tomorrow at 1:40 p.m. in conference room 224 to hear SB397. Meanwhile, HB457 was unanimously passed out of the House Higher Education Committee with amendments on Feb. 10.
These bills would require that the university adopt an affirmative consent policy in regards to sexual assault. This essentially means that the absence of a verbal no or physical resistance during a sexual encounter cannot be used as proof of consent in disciplinary proceedings relating to sexual assaults. SB923 also mandates that the Board of Regents adopt specific policies directly relating to sexual assault and student safety.
HB451 has passed second reading already and been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. HB597 and SB923 have been referred to their appropriate committees but have not had hearings yet.
These bills provide greater benefits to military veterans and their dependents, including free tuition.
SB173 and SB341 have been referred to committees, but have not received hearings yet. HB285 was unanimously passed out of the HED with amendments.