Student senators lobby in Springfield

By Megan Jones

Donning suits and carrying manila folders, a delegation of Illinois student senators traveled to the State Capitol in Springfield on Wednesday to discuss and lobby state representatives and senators in regards to the Alcohol Poisoning Immunity bill and raise awareness of their student debt campaign.

“You’re walking and talking with them and you’re trying to explain all your points,” said Christopher Lowery, Illinois student senator and senior in LAS. “It makes you feel like a real player in Springfield, even if we are just students who are advocating for our causes.”

Fall Advocacy Day allows for senators to meet with their home legislators on major issues they see as pertinent to students at the University.

“It’s a great opportunity for all the senators to get more involved in the legislative process and can make a real impact on the larger community,” said Karolina Wasiniewska, senator and graduate student.

Eleven senators attended and each were assigned three state legislators to speak with.

“Even though we are University students, quite a few of us and a large portion of the University’s students vote in our home districts, so it’s important to reach out to those legislators and let them know that their constituents are tracking these issues,” said Lowery, a former Illini Media employee.

House Bill 2341, the Alcohol Poisoning Immunity Bill, seeks to change Illinois code to allow immunity from the Liquor Control Act for underage drinkers who seek emergency medical assistance. The bill was started as a collaboration between State Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-103, and former ISS student body president Brock Gebhardt.

Senators also spoke out for student debt awareness, specifically Illinois House Resolution 0620, which calls on Congress to restore bankruptcy protection and other consumer rights for student loans.

“For example, you can go out and rack up $10,000 on a credit card and file bankruptcy for those, but you can’t for student loans,” Lowery said. “You’ll carry that debt with you for the rest of your life.”

Tony Fiorentino, student senator and graduate student, has been campaigning for student debt and has planned an upcoming student debt awareness week Nov. 11 through Nov. 16. HR 0620 also currently awaits the Illinois House Rules Committee’s action.

“It’s very exciting for (legislators) to see college students wanting to get involved in the political process and meet with their legislators to have an impact on the state that we all live in,” Lowery said. “We are taking ideas that started with us and putting them into play with Illinois State Code.”

The Alcohol Poisoning Immunity bill currently awaits committee action in the Illinois House of Representatives. Wasiniewska said they hope this eliminates the situation where after a night of drinking, a student is scared to call for an ambulance because they fear a ticket for underage consumption.

However, Deputy Chief Skip Frost of the University Police Department said the idea of the immunity legislation is frustrating for police officers because they are trying to pass a bill that they already operate by.

“They are trying to legislate the way we already rule things,” Frost said. “Our number one goal is to help and not to write citations. This creates the impression that we are currently coming to fight someone for doing the right thing. We are not the boogie man. However, we hope this will eliminate any fear underage drinkers may have.”

Lowery said that while a lot of universities already follow this policy, it would be nice to have it in state law that people should not be afraid, and Jenny Baldwin, ISS vice president-internal, agrees that having the bill passed in Illinois is a great thing, especially for this campus.

“You may have people drinking in high school and certainly when people are younger they have lower alcohol tolerance and cannot judge how much to drink, which can result in alcohol poisoning,” Lowery said. “The whole point is not to interfere with the legal process or prevent authorities from doing their job, but it’s meant to save lives.”

He adds that Illinois holds a good samaritan law for illegal drugs, granting immunity from any legal proceedings that may come from illegal drug activity when an overdose is reported.

Megan can be reached at [email protected]