Bill S2931-2011

Requires biennial referendum of student body at public universities and colleges to determine whether student activity fees are voluntary or mandatory

Requires the biennial conducting of a referendum of the student body at each college and university of the state university of New York and city university of New York, and at each community college as to whether the student activity fees shall be mandatory or voluntary; requires the funds from such fees to be disbursed in a fair and neutral manner without regard to the viewpoints of organizations requesting funding; requires the posting of a notice of the purpose of such fee and the mission statements of all organizations receiving disbursements from such fees.

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  • Jan 4, 2012: REFERRED TO HIGHER EDUCATION
  • Feb 3, 2011: REFERRED TO HIGHER EDUCATION

Memo

BILL NUMBER:S2931

TITLE OF BILL: An act to amend the education law, in relation to student activity fees

PURPOSE: To ensure that student activity fee programs in place at SUNY, CUNY and community colleges in New York State adhere to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on this matter regarding viewpoint neutrality in funding decisions, to require colleges and universities to post information on the student activity fee on a publicly accessible website, and to require a referendum of the student body at least every two years as to whether the student activity fee shall be mandatory or voluntary.

SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS: Section one adds a new subdivision 20 to section 355 of the education law to: require that every college or university in the SUNY system post conspicuously on a publicly accessible website notice describing the purpose of the fee and the requirements set forth in this section; require a referendum at least every two years to determine whether the student activity fee shall be voluntary or mandatory; prohibit the use of a referendum for the determination of funding for any particular organization; provide that any student group that is officially recognized by the student government is eligible to receive funding; require that the procedure for distributing funds shall be viewpoint neutral; and provide for an appeals process for registered student organizations complaining of viewpoint discrimination in the funding process at all colleges and universities operated by SUNY.

§ 2 adds a new subdivision 4 to section 6215 of the education law to apply the procedures set forth in section one of the bill to CUNY campuses.

§ 3 adds a new subdivision 1-a to section 6304 of the education law to apply the procedures set forth in section one of the bill to community colleges.

§ 4 provides for the effective date.

JUSTIFICATION: The purpose of a student activity fee program at public colleges and universities is to enhance students' educational experience by promoting extracurricular activities, stimulating advocacy and debate on diverse points of view, enabling participation in campus administrative activity, and providing opportunities to develop social skills. However, because such a diverse group of student organizations are eligible to receive funding from the student activity fee, students often find themselves in the position of having to financially support organizations who engage in political and ideological expression that is offensive to their personal beliefs. A group of students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison sued the University charging that the student fee program violated their First Amendment rights by compelling them to

support speech that they found objectionable. In their suit, the students asked that the University be required to grant them the choice to not fund objectionable groups.

This case was heard in 1999 by the United States Supreme Court in the case of Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System v. Southworth et at. (No. 98-1189). In its decision, which was rendered in March 2000, the Court ruled that the First Amendment permits a public university to charge its students an activity fee used to fund a program to facilitate extracurricular student speech, provided that the disbursement of funds is done in a fair and neutral manner without regard to the viewpoints of the organization requesting funding. This requirement for viewpoint neutrality in funding decisions, the Court found, is necessary to protect the First Amendment interests of students. The Court held that "Viewpoint neutrality is the justification for requiring the student to pay the fee in the first instance and for ensuring the Integrity of the program's operation once the funds have been collected."

Additionally, the University of Wisconsin's student activity fee program provided, in some instances, for a student referendum to decide which student groups would receive funding. A similar system is in place at public colleges and universities in New York. On this point, the Court held that "The whole theory of viewpoint neutrality is that minority views are treated with the same respect as are majority views. Access to a public forum, for instance, does not depend on majoritarian consent. That principle is binding here." Finding this referendum provision to be potentially unconstitutional, the Supreme Court struck down this part of the University of Wisconsin's fee program and remanded the case back to the District Court for further proceedings on this issue. On remand, the District Court did in fact find this provision to be unconstitutional, and the University of Wisconsin has subsequently determined that it will no longer use the referendum process to fund student organizations.

Many of the concerns that led to the original lawsuit exist on campuses within the SUNY, CUNY and community college systems in New York. In fact, a group of students at SUNY Albany have filed a lawsuit in federal district court in order to force compliance with the Southworth ruling there. This legislation is necessary in order to ensure that the Constitutional protections required by the U.S. Supreme Court for student activity fee programs are in place for students attending SUNY, CUNY or community colleges in New York.

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY: 2009-10: Referred to Higher Education

EFFECTIVE DATE: This act shall take effect on the first day of August next succeeding the date on which it shall have become a law.


Text

STATE OF NEW YORK ________________________________________________________________________ 2931 2011-2012 Regular Sessions IN SENATE February 3, 2011 ___________
Introduced by Sen. JOHNSON -- read twice and ordered printed, and when printed to be committed to the Committee on Higher Education AN ACT to amend the education law, in relation to student activity fees THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, REPRESENTED IN SENATE AND ASSEM- BLY, DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS: Section 1. Section 355 of the education law is amended by adding a new subdivision 20 to read as follows: 20. STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE. A. DISCLOSURE. EVERY COLLEGE OR UNIVERSI- TY OF THE STATE UNIVERSITY SHALL CONSPICUOUSLY POST ON A PUBLICLY ACCES- SIBLE WEBSITE A NOTICE REGARDING THE STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE WHICH SHALL INCLUDE, BUT NOT BE LIMITED TO: (1) THE PURPOSE OF SUCH FEE, (2) THE RULES AND PROCEDURES FOR THE ALLOCATION OF FUNDS FROM SUCH FEE, (3) THE NAME AND MISSION STATEMENT OF EACH STUDENT ORGANIZATION THAT RECEIVED FUNDING FROM SUCH FEE DURING THE PREVIOUS ACADEMIC YEAR, (4) THE REQUIREMENT THAT ALL FUNDING DECISIONS BE MADE IN AN OPEN FORUM WHERE ALL STUDENTS ARE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT, (5) THAT ALL FUNDING DECISIONS SHALL BE MADE IN A FAIR AND NEUTRAL MANNER WITHOUT REGARD TO THE VIEWPOINTS OF THE ORGANIZATION REQUESTING FUNDING, AND (6) THAT A REFERENDUM SHALL BE HELD AT LEAST EVERY TWO YEARS THE PURPOSE OF WHICH IS TO DETERMINE WHETHER THE STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE SHALL BE MANDATORY OR VOLUNTARY. B. REFERENDUM. PRIOR TO THE CLOSE OF THE FIRST FULL ACADEMIC YEAR IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THIS SUBDIVISION, AND AT LEAST ONCE EVERY TWO YEARS THEREAFTER, THE STUDENT BODY AT EACH COLLEGE OR UNIVERSITY OPERATED BY THE STATE UNIVERSITY SHALL DETERMINE BY REFER- ENDUM WHETHER STUDENT ACTIVITY PROGRAMS SHALL BE SUPPORTED BY EITHER VOLUNTARY OR MANDATORY STUDENT FEES. SUCH REFERENDUM SHALL BE CONDUCTED ON CAMPUS AT AN EASILY ACCESSIBLE POLLING PLACE OR PLACES AND AT SUCH TIME AS SHALL BE CONVENIENT FOR THE GREATEST NUMBER OF STUDENTS. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHALL FUNDING FOR ANY PARTICULAR ORGANIZATION BE DETER- MINED BY REFERENDUM. NOTICE OF SUCH REFERENDUM SHALL BE CONSPICUOUSLY POSTED AT SEVERAL LOCATIONS ON CAMPUS FOR NOT LESS THAN FIFTEEN DAYS PRIOR TO THE DATE ON WHICH THE REFERENDUM SHALL BE CONDUCTED. SUCH NOTICE SHALL INCLUDE, BUT NOT BE LIMITED TO, THE DATE ON WHICH THE
REFERENDUM WILL BE HELD, THE TIMES DURING WHICH POLLING PLACES WILL BE OPEN, THE LOCATION OF ALL POLLING PLACES, AND THE QUESTION OR QUESTIONS BEFORE THE STUDENT BODY. C. ELIGIBILITY FOR FUNDING. ANY GROUP THAT IS OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED BY THE REPRESENTATIVE STUDENT ORGANIZATION IN ACCORDANCE WITH PROCEDURES ESTABLISHED ON EACH CAMPUS SHALL BE ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE FUNDING FROM STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE PROCEEDS. D. DISBURSEMENT OF FUNDS. PROCEEDS OF THE STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE SHALL BE DISBURSED BY THE REPRESENTATIVE STUDENT ORGANIZATION IN A FAIR AND NEUTRAL MANNER WITHOUT REGARD TO THE VIEWPOINTS OF THE ORGANIZATION REQUESTING FUNDING. ALL FUNDING DECISIONS SHALL BE MADE IN AN OPEN FORUM WHERE MEMBERS OF THE STUDENT BODY ARE GIVEN AN OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT. E. APPEAL OF FUNDING DECISIONS. THE REPRESENTATIVE STUDENT ORGANIZA- TION ON EACH CAMPUS SHALL CREATE AN APPEALS PROCESS FOR REGISTERED STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS COMPLAINING OF VIEWPOINT DISCRIMINATION IN THE FUNDING PROCESS. AFTER EXHAUSTING STUDENT REVIEW, AN AGGRIEVED REGIS- TERED STUDENT ORGANIZATION MAY APPEAL TO THE CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFI- CER OF EACH CAMPUS, OR HIS OR HER DESIGNEE. S 2. Section 6215 of the education law is amended by adding a new subdivision 4 to read as follows: 4. STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE. A. DISCLOSURE. EVERY COLLEGE OR UNIVERSITY OF THE CITY UNIVERSITY SHALL CONSPICUOUSLY POST ON A PUBLICLY ACCESSIBLE WEBSITE A NOTICE REGARDING THE STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE WHICH SHALL INCLUDE, BUT NOT BE LIMITED TO: (1) THE PURPOSE OF SUCH FEE, (2) THE RULES AND PROCEDURES FOR THE ALLOCATION OF FUNDS FROM SUCH FEE, (3) THE NAME AND MISSION STATEMENT OF EACH STUDENT ORGANIZATION THAT RECEIVED FUNDING FROM SUCH FEE DURING THE PREVIOUS ACADEMIC YEAR, (4) THE REQUIREMENT THAT ALL FUNDING DECISIONS BE MADE IN AN OPEN FORUM WHERE ALL STUDENTS ARE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT, (5) THAT ALL FUNDING DECISIONS SHALL BE MADE IN A FAIR AND NEUTRAL MANNER WITHOUT REGARD TO THE VIEW- POINTS OF THE ORGANIZATION REQUESTING FUNDING, AND (6) THAT A REFERENDUM SHALL BE HELD AT LEAST EVERY TWO YEARS THE PURPOSE OF WHICH IS TO DETER- MINE WHETHER THE STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE SHALL BE MANDATORY OR VOLUNTARY. B. REFERENDUM. PRIOR TO THE CLOSE OF THE FIRST FULL ACADEMIC YEAR IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THIS SUBDIVISION, AND AT LEAST ONCE EVERY TWO YEARS THEREAFTER, THE STUDENT BODY AT EACH COLLEGE OR UNIVERSITY OPERATED BY THE CITY UNIVERSITY SHALL DETERMINE BY REFER- ENDUM WHETHER STUDENT ACTIVITY PROGRAMS SHALL BE SUPPORTED BY EITHER VOLUNTARY OR MANDATORY STUDENT FEES. SUCH REFERENDUM SHALL BE CONDUCTED ON CAMPUS AT AN EASILY ACCESSIBLE POLLING PLACE OR PLACES AND AT SUCH TIME AS SHALL BE CONVENIENT FOR THE GREATEST NUMBER OF STUDENTS. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHALL FUNDING FOR ANY PARTICULAR ORGANIZATION BE DETER- MINED BY REFERENDUM. NOTICE OF SUCH REFERENDUM SHALL BE CONSPICUOUSLY POSTED AT SEVERAL LOCATIONS ON CAMPUS FOR NOT LESS THAN FIFTEEN DAYS PRIOR TO THE DATE ON WHICH THE REFERENDUM SHALL BE CONDUCTED. SUCH NOTICE SHALL INCLUDE, BUT NOT BE LIMITED TO, THE DATE ON WHICH THE REFERENDUM WILL BE HELD, THE TIMES DURING WHICH POLLING PLACES WILL BE OPEN, THE LOCATION OF ALL POLLING PLACES, AND THE QUESTION OR QUESTIONS BEFORE THE STUDENT BODY. C. ELIGIBILITY FOR FUNDING. ANY GROUP THAT IS OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED BY THE REPRESENTATIVE STUDENT ORGANIZATION IN ACCORDANCE WITH PROCEDURES ESTABLISHED ON EACH CAMPUS SHALL BE ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE FUNDING FROM STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE PROCEEDS. D. DISBURSEMENT OF FUNDS. PROCEEDS OF THE STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE SHALL BE DISBURSED BY THE REPRESENTATIVE STUDENT ORGANIZATION IN A FAIR AND NEUTRAL MANNER WITHOUT REGARD TO THE VIEWPOINTS OF THE ORGANIZATION
REQUESTING FUNDING. ALL FUNDING DECISIONS SHALL BE MADE IN AN OPEN FORUM WHERE MEMBERS OF THE STUDENT BODY ARE GIVEN AN OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT. E. APPEAL OF FUNDING DECISIONS. THE REPRESENTATIVE STUDENT ORGANIZA- TION ON EACH CAMPUS SHALL CREATE AN APPEALS PROCESS FOR REGISTERED STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS COMPLAINING OF VIEWPOINT DISCRIMINATION IN THE FUNDING PROCESS. AFTER EXHAUSTING STUDENT REVIEW, AN AGGRIEVED REGIS- TERED STUDENT ORGANIZATION MAY APPEAL TO THE CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFI- CER OF EACH CAMPUS, OR HIS OR HER DESIGNEE. S 3. Section 6304 of the education law is amended by adding a new subdivision 1-a to read as follows: 1-A. STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE. A. DISCLOSURE. EVERY COMMUNITY COLLEGE SHALL CONSPICUOUSLY POST ON A PUBLICLY ACCESSIBLE WEBSITE A NOTICE REGARDING THE STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE WHICH SHALL INCLUDE, BUT NOT BE LIMITED TO: (1) THE PURPOSE OF SUCH FEE, (2) THE RULES AND PROCEDURES FOR THE ALLOCATION OF FUNDS FROM SUCH FEE, (3) THE NAME AND MISSION STATEMENT OF EACH STUDENT ORGANIZATION THAT RECEIVED FUNDING FROM SUCH FEE DURING THE PREVIOUS ACADEMIC YEAR, (4) THE REQUIREMENT THAT ALL FUNDING DECISIONS BE MADE IN AN OPEN FORUM WHERE ALL STUDENTS ARE GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT, (5) THAT ALL FUNDING DECISIONS SHALL BE MADE IN A FAIR AND NEUTRAL MANNER WITHOUT REGARD TO THE VIEWPOINTS OF THE ORGANIZATION REQUESTING FUNDING, AND (6) THAT A REFERENDUM SHALL BE HELD AT LEAST EVERY TWO YEARS THE PURPOSE OF WHICH IS TO DETERMINE WHETHER THE STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE SHALL BE MANDATORY OR VOLUNTARY. B. REFERENDUM. PRIOR TO THE CLOSE OF THE FIRST FULL ACADEMIC YEAR IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE EFFECTIVE DATE OF THIS SUBDIVISION, AND AT LEAST ONCE EVERY TWO YEARS THEREAFTER, THE STUDENT BODY AT EACH COMMUNI- TY COLLEGE SHALL DETERMINE BY REFERENDUM WHETHER STUDENT ACTIVITY PROGRAMS SHALL BE SUPPORTED BY EITHER VOLUNTARY OR MANDATORY STUDENT FEES. SUCH REFERENDUM SHALL BE CONDUCTED ON CAMPUS AT AN EASILY ACCESSI- BLE POLLING PLACE OR PLACES AND AT SUCH TIME AS SHALL BE CONVENIENT FOR THE GREATEST NUMBER OF STUDENTS. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHALL FUNDING FOR ANY PARTICULAR ORGANIZATION BE DETERMINED BY REFERENDUM. NOTICE OF SUCH REFERENDUM SHALL BE CONSPICUOUSLY POSTED AT SEVERAL LOCATIONS ON CAMPUS FOR NOT LESS THAN FIFTEEN DAYS PRIOR TO THE DATE ON WHICH THE REFERENDUM SHALL BE CONDUCTED. SUCH NOTICE SHALL INCLUDE, BUT NOT BE LIMITED TO, THE DATE ON WHICH THE REFERENDUM WILL BE HELD, THE TIMES DURING WHICH POLLING PLACES WILL BE OPEN, THE LOCATION OF ALL POLLING PLACES, AND THE QUESTION OR QUESTIONS BEFORE THE STUDENT BODY. C. ELIGIBILITY FOR FUNDING. ANY GROUP THAT IS OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED BY THE REPRESENTATIVE STUDENT ORGANIZATION IN ACCORDANCE WITH PROCEDURES ESTABLISHED ON EACH CAMPUS SHALL BE ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE FUNDING FROM STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE PROCEEDS. D. DISBURSEMENT OF FUNDS. PROCEEDS OF THE STUDENT ACTIVITY FEE SHALL BE DISBURSED BY THE REPRESENTATIVE STUDENT ORGANIZATION IN A FAIR AND NEUTRAL MANNER WITHOUT REGARD TO THE VIEWPOINTS OF THE ORGANIZATION REQUESTING FUNDING. ALL FUNDING DECISIONS SHALL BE MADE IN AN OPEN FORUM WHERE MEMBERS OF THE STUDENT BODY ARE GIVEN AN OPPORTUNITY TO COMMENT. E. APPEAL OF FUNDING DECISIONS. THE REPRESENTATIVE STUDENT ORGANIZA- TION ON EACH CAMPUS SHALL CREATE AN APPEALS PROCESS FOR REGISTERED STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS COMPLAINING OF VIEWPOINT DISCRIMINATION IN THE FUNDING PROCESS. AFTER EXHAUSTING STUDENT REVIEW, AN AGGRIEVED REGIS- TERED STUDENT ORGANIZATION MAY APPEAL TO THE CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFI- CER OF EACH CAMPUS, OR HIS OR HER DESIGNEE. S 4. This act shall take effect on the first of August next succeeding the date on which it shall have become a law.

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