More than 50 students and representatives from Student Government Association journeyed to Tallahassee on Wednesday to lobby with state legislators on behalf of UCF.
This mass migration of student legislators, called the Day at the Capitol, is an annual event that sees students and members of the school's governing student body rise in the early hours of the morning to bring the concerns of their constituencies – spread across the university's 13 colleges, campuses and programs – to Florida's highest legislative body.
Of particular importance on SGA's agenda were the topics of UCF's downtown campus and Chloe's Law, said Tyler Yeargain, SGA's legislative affairs coordinator. The $200 million downtown campus project was thrown into turmoil after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a requested $20 million in state funding, but Florida leaders eventually agreed to contribute $15 million toward the project. Chloe's Law is a petition to install barriers around retention ponds after a UCF student, Chloe Arenas, died after crashing her vehicle into a retention pond near school on June 28, 2015.
“Our lobbying efforts were immensely successful today,” Yeargain said. “In all of the meetings that our students had today, lawmakers were extraordinarily receptive to the issues that were raised, and appreciated the opportunity to hear from some of their younger constituents.”
Among the day’s many meetings, Yeargain, accompanied by SGA President Cait Zona and SGA Chief of Staff Chris Clemente, met with Rep. Steve Crisafulli, the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, to thank him for his efforts on behalf on the UCF community.
During the meeting, the SGA leaders presented Crisafulli with the Steve Crisafulli Legislative Leadership Award in honor of being the first UCF alumnus to serve as the presiding officer of a chamber of the Florida legislature.
“Meeting Speaker Crisafulli was an experience that I thought would be really intimidating, but he was incredibly accessible and gracious, and we had a really pleasant, productive conversation,” Yeargain said.
The group, with the addition of SGA Vice President Jarell Jones and SGA Chief Justice Taylor Scimeca, also met with Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner.
“In both meetings, we reflected that UCF is extraordinarily well-positioned,” Yeargain said. “The president of the Senate represents the Senate district containing UCF, and the Speaker of the House is an alumnus of UCF. We look forward to continuing to work with President Gardiner and Speaker Crisafulli."
Clemente said that President Gardiner has been an influential and beneficial force for UCF and its constituents.
"It was a pleasure to meet with him and take stock of our successes and how to move forward in the future," he said, adding that both legislative priorities will benefit the UCF community as a whole by making roads safer and increasing employment opportunities in Orlando.
The students who attended organized themselves into small groups and were then assigned meetings with participating legislators.
Emily Carson, a junior double majoring in political science and social sciences, met with Sen. Darren Soto from Kissimmee, one of the first two legislators to sponsor Chloe’s Law back in October.
“It was my first time attending the Day at the Capitol event and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” Carson said. “It was incredible to see all of the support that we have from our government, and it really motivated me to continue working for positive change in our community.”
Carson, like many of the other students who attended, said that she was primarily motivated to participate in the lobbying efforts because she is passionate about her local community.
“While I did not have any close personal ties to Chloe’s Law, I do think it’s incredibly important that we help ensure the safety of everyone in our community to the best of our ability,” she said. “I also think it is vital that we continue working alongside Orlando in order to improve our city and school, and the expansion of the downtown campus is a wonderful way to do so.”
Yeargain said that because younger constituents don’t tend to be as involved in the political process, it’s sometimes easy for lawmakers to neglect the issues that impact younger people.
“Today’s event, and comparable events put on by other universities, really showed legislators that their younger constituents do care, and it gave them a chance to interact with people they otherwise might have never met,” Yeargain said.
Daniela Marin is a digital producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @dan__marin or email her at DanielaM@CentralFloridaFuture.com.