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Bill to make student BOG member appointed by governor moves ahead

The bill that would make the student member of the Florida Board of Governors a position appointed by the governor moved ahead in the House education committee Tuesday, despite fervent testimony on students from both sides.

As the state constitution now spells it out, that member is the chair of the Florida Student Association, an organization made up of student body presidents from the state universities. The problem, says bill sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, is that the FSA charges dues. He sees the set-up as "pay-to-play."  Only one university is not an FSA member -- Gaetz's alma mater, Florida State University.

But the current FSA chairman and BOG student member, Michael Long, says the current arrangement works. FSA recently amended its bylaws so that membership is not contingent on dues. If FSU's student body president wanted to join the group, even as a voting member, the school wouldn't need to pay a dime. Plus, another change to the bylaws says that a unanimous vote among all members is required to implement dues. So if FSU wants to do away with all dues for everybody, they could be that lone dissenting vote.

Not good enough, said Asimina Boutzoukas, a senior at FSU who is paid to direct students' governmental affairs. FSA shouldn't be singled out in the state constitution at all. There's nothing keeping future members of that organization from changing those bylaws back and requiring dues. 

"I challenge you to understand, this is a fundamental problem within our constitution," Boutzoukas told the committee.

Long, a sophomore at New College, argued that the FSA ensures that the BOG member is representative of his or her peers, and accountable to them, too -- not just to the governor. The BOG's faculty member is similarly selected by other faculty members, he said.

But in the end, lawmakers voted to allow Gaetz's bill to advance.

"As much as it pains me to give the governor another appointment," joked Rep. Martin Kiar, "I think this is probably in the best interest of our students."