ASUW Board of Directors returns legislative agenda to senate over menstrual equity, mental health

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The ASUW Board of Directors (BOD) convened for what ASUW President Kelty Pierce dubbed a “very spooky” Halloween meeting Thursday, Oct. 31. The vast majority of the conversation centered around the legislative agenda passed last week by the ASUW Student Senate.

Legislative agenda

The BOD was joined by Spencer Lively, director of legislative affairs for the ASUW Office of Government Relations. Lively is the ASUW’s chief lobbyist to the state legislature and sat in to explain some of the nuances of the legislative agenda.

The ASUW Legislative Agenda, Pierce explained, is a legally binding document that outlines “what Spencer, myself, and students are permitted to lobby on.” The agenda, she continued, is drafted yearly by a committee and passed to the student senate for debate and approval. The BOD can approve the agenda or send it back to the senate with changes. 

The agenda’s key points include increasing access to state programs, especially for student parents and undocumented students, the compensation of student athletes for their likeness, and opposition to prison labor. The agenda also pushes for increased access to health care, mental health resources, and counselors. Other issues include reporting sexual assault, gender-inclusive housing, food security, sex education, and accessibility.

The provisions on the expansion of menstrual product availability and mental health resources attracted scrutiny. Director of programming Daniella Calasanz-Miño expressed concern that the wording in both of these sections were not specific enough. 

“I’d like to see something more specific about suicide prevention,” Calasanz-Miño said. “I know that UW has a program called the Forefront Suicide Prevention program, and they do a lot of work specifically on this issue. So I’m not sure if not adding that into the legislative agenda means people can’t lobby on behalf of this policy.” 

Lively explained that the mental health wording was purposefully written broadly and that it includes suicide prevention implicitly. Moreover, he said, a 2015 study by Forefront about the availability of mental health resources actually forms the basis for the legislative position regarding expanded access to those resources.

Calasanz-Miño also took issue with the goal of free menstrual product availability on higher-education campuses, saying it was too narrow. 

“Obviously, that will address the inequities, but Washington also allows a pink tax,” she said, referring to sales taxes on menstrual hygiene products. “Even if students have access to tampons on the third floor of the HUB, during the weekend, they would still have to [purchase them].” 

As long as the pink tax exists, she said, so will inequities, suggesting that a line opposing the pink tax be added.

Lively explained that the senate originally excluded this language because it was not directly connected to the UW. Lobbying against the pink tax, he said, would be lobbying on behalf of all users of menstrual products in Washington state, as opposed to higher-education students specifically.

Ultimately, Calasanz-Miño proposed two amendments to the bill to add specific language regarding suicide prevention resources and opposition to the pink tax.

Lively said that the annual OGR Legislative Reception, where student advocates and state lawmakers will meet over dinner to discuss the legislative agenda, is just two weeks away. Sending the agenda back to senate, Lively said, could delay its approval by a week or more, complicating the event’s logistics. 

Following an unsuccessful vote to pass the bill without the proposed changes, the BOD voted 5-1 with no abstentions to recommit the legislative agenda back to the senate for discussion on the amendments. 

Bills passed

All other bills were passed without opposition.

Reach contributing writer Matthew Hipolito at Twitter: @hipolmat

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