On Friday, February 8th, a group of 17 students traveled to Richmond to lobby with Virginia senators and delegates on behalf of the JMU student body for bills affecting Virginia college students. Our day began at 6:15 a.m. sharp when we departed campus for the Virginia general assembly in the capitol city and ended at 3 p.m. when we arrived back at JMU. This group of 17 hold the record for the Legislative Action committee’s largest lobbying group ever; 16 lobbyists were SGA members and 1 was anon-SGA member, but an asset to have as an experiences lobbyist.
Our primary goal was to encourage our legislators to revisit House Bill 1303, which calls for a tax credit for small businesses hiring graduates of Virginia public colleges. House Bill 2145 and corresponding Senate Bill 1220 were also on our lobbing agenda until they got passed unanimously into law allowing people to deposit their tax returns directly into their Virginia College Savings Plan.
The day took an unexpected turn when we discovered all senators and delegates were to report to a caucus meeting which cancelled many of our appointments. This caused some anxiety as my group didn’t get to meet with any our legislators, but rather their legislative aides. This turned out to be a good alternative, since the aides we met with took a great interest in our bills and seemed eager to share with their respective legislators. We were told several times how impressive it was to see college students lobbying for House and Senate bills that weren’t for university funding. All of the students definitely represented JMU well, and Senator Chap Petersen even updated his social media sites recognizing our lobbyists.
As someone with no experience lobbying, I was very nervous to be leading my group of 3 through our meetings, but by the end of the day I learned so much more about the legislative system than I ever expected to. The Legislative Action committee will begin planning our spring lobbying trip to D.C. soon, and we even hope to bring more non-SGA members along with us.