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Gov. Jan Brewer signed a controversial bill into law on Friday that forbids student organizations from using tuition money to influence elections or legislation.

The bill's passage raises questions about the future of the Arizona Students’ Association, a student advocacy group previously funded by a tuition fee.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R- Fountain Hills, said he proposed House Bill 2169 because student groups such as ASA should not use tuition fees to advocate for politics. The bill came as a response to ASA’s use of tuition money to support 2012's failed Proposition 204, which would have extended a 1-cent per dollar sales tax to be used toward education.

“ASA, like all political advocacy groups, should have to find funding on their own dollar and not rely on the government,” Kavanagh said.

The Arizona Board of Regents voted in February to make the $2 semesterly fee ASA collected from Arizona university students voluntary, as opposed to the previous opt-out format.

Kavanagh held the bill back when ABOR took up the issue of the ASA fee but continued to push the bill after the association filed a lawsuit against ABOR in response to its February decision.

ASA board members said they filed the lawsuit because ABOR’s ruling was intended to bar the organization’s right to free speech, which Kavanagh said was an illegitimate argument.

“(ASA's) right to free speech is alive and well,” Kavanagh said. “Their right to free money is suppressed.”

Kavanagh said ASA has been receiving special privileges for years and will have to fundraise like other political advocacy and nonprofit groups do.

“Now they have to compete for money,” Kavanagh said. “Organizations like ASA have a role as long as they do it on their own efforts.”

ASA’s mission statement is to make higher education more affordable and accessible, and the group utilizes political advocacy to achieve this. However, ASA came under scrutiny in 2012 because Proposition 204 was a divided issue that received 36.21 percent of the vote.

In September 2012, three of ASU’s four Undergraduate Student Government presidents resigned from ASA’s Board of Directors because of the group’s use of the fee.

According to ASA’s website, the contributions to Proposition 204 were “well within the organization’s mission.”

Graduate and Professional Student Association President Rhian Stotts, an ASA board member, said she was disappointed with the student governments who should have been more supportive of ASA because of its ability to create positive change for students.

“ASA comes together and provides an opportunity to work with coalition groups around the state,” Stotts said. “That’s the way you get things done.”

Stotts, an anthropology graduate student, said HB 2169's passage will not stop ASA from pursuing its mission, but it does provide challenges for the group.

“My biggest concern with the opt-in fee is how to reach incoming students,” Stotts said. “We’re looking at a lot of different options.”

Stotts said ASA is going to continue to push forward its lawsuit against ABOR and the lawsuit will not be affected by HB 2169.

First-year public policy graduate student Tyler Bowyer, a student regent, said ASA was wrong to use tuition funds the way it did, and ABOR was within its rights to suspend the fee.

“All fees can be implemented and removed by the board,” Bowyer said. “That’s the job of the board.”

Bowyer said ASA’s decision to pursue the lawsuit could hurt its credibility in a time when it needs to be maintaining a desirable image.

“(ASA) needs to position itself as it walks into a new era of having to fundraise,” Bowyer said. “They haven’t done that. It’s senseless.”

Reach the reporter at or follow him on Twitter at @Jthrall1

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