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Senate committee passes green fee bill

The green fee amendment passed in the Senate Higher Education Committee on Wednesday with a unanimous vote, overcoming the first major step toward passing it at the state level.

Student Environmental Association (SEA) president Lyndsey Scofield and SEA member Karissa Gerkhe — along with student representatives from UF, FSU and UCF — traveled to Tallahassee last week to lobby for the amendment.

The students met with several senators, representatives and legislative aids to clarify the details of the amendment and address any of the senators’ concerns before the committee met the next day.

Scofield also gave senators a packet of letters supporting the amendment from several USF students who could not attend the meeting.

Scofield said some representatives were concerned about the possibility of adding another fee on top of the already proposed tuition increases.

The state’s passage of the amendment will give universities the opportunity to enact the green fee on their campuses. However, Zak Keith, Southern Energy Network’s Florida Green Fee coordinator, said that if the amendment is passed by the state, Florida universities would not be required to enact the fee.

Students will have to vote on another referendum and receive the approval of the USF Board of Trustees before the green fee can be officially enacted on campus, Keith said.

A subset clause in the amendment also requires students to re-vote on the green fee every five years to ensure it is being used properly and effectively, he said. If not, students can choose to terminate it.

The amendment also proposes a 50/50 structure for the university committees that will oversee the distribution and allocation of green fee funds, Keith said. Half the committee would comprise students, and the university president would appoint the other half.

Theoretically, the president could choose to add more students to the committee, Keith said. However, he said the committees should include some faculty members as well.

The amendment will likely go through the Finance and Tax Committee next, Keith said, and then through the Higher Education Appropriations Committee and the Policy and Steering Committee on Ways and Means.

All committee meetings for this session will end by April 21, Keith said. The amendment must be passed through the committees before it can be heard on the Senate floor.

After its unanimous passage through the first Senate committee, Scofield said she is hopeful for the future of the amendment.

“It is making progress in Tallahassee,” she said. “I’m optimistic that with more student presence and more effort in Tallahassee, it can pass through the rest of the committees and get to the floor this session.”

Scofield said SEA has now begun contacting Senator Charlie Justice (D-Fla.), vice chair of the Finance and Tax Committee. A USF alumnus, Justice serves is an academic advisor at USF St. Petersburg campus.

Scofield said she hopes to gain Justice’s support in helping bring the green fee to USF.