Student leaders, lawmakers say March 5 protests could impact future legislation

Gracie Malley/File
Protesters, numbering in the thousands, gather in front of the Capitol building in Sacramento in a rally earlier this year to advocate for higher education.

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In addition to rallies and marches that involved thousands of protesters, extensive student lobbying during the March 5 demonstrations in Sacramento Monday aimed to convince legislators to support bills to increase funding for higher education.

While some protesters chose to occupy the Capitol building to draw attention to declining state support for public universities, others chose to approach legislators to swing votes toward legislation such as a plan to decrease college tuition for middle-class families.

Should voters reject Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax initiative in November, the UC system will see its budget slashed by an additional $200 million. In a statement Monday, Brown cited the initiative as “imperative” for addressing the needs of public universities.

“The students today are reflecting the frustrations of millions of Californians who have seen their public schools and universities eroded year after year,” Brown said in the statement. “That’s why it’s imperative that we get more tax revenue this November.”

Key aims of student organizations that were lobbying Monday included garnering support for the Middle Class Scholarship Plan announced Feb. 8 by state Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles — legislation that would slash tuition and fees for students whose families make less than $150,000 a year by two-thirds — as well as AB 970, the Working Families Student Fee Transparency and Accountability Act, according to UC Student Association President Claudia Magana.

“We’re lobbying almost every legislator,” she said. “There’s a few we don’t have meetings with, and we’re going to do walk-in visits for people we don’t have appointments with.”

In a phone interview with The Daily Californian during Monday’s protest, state Assemblymember and chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee Marty Block, D-San Diego, said student involvement might swing key Republican votes toward supporting higher education legislation but cautioned against occupying the Capitol building.

“I fear that any kind of occupying the building will be extremely counterproductive,” he said. “It will turn off my Republican colleagues and make them less likely to vote for funding for higher education.”

UC Student Regent-designate Jonathan Stein agreed, stating that he did not want “the actions of a few people” to distract legislators from students’ lobbying efforts.

Staff writers Damian Ortellado and Amruta Trivedi contributed to this report.