As Virginia’s General Assembly begins its 2017 session, George Mason University’s eyes and ears in Capitol Square are there to follow the issues that are important to the institution.
Many people may not be aware that two George Mason staff members are based full-time in Richmond to stay abreast of developments during the legislative session and throughout the year.
The so-called “Richmond Campus” is really a suite of three offices located within a five-minute walk of Capitol Square, giving Mason staff access to legislative action, and making it easy to weigh in on legislation and budget negotiations that will impact university operations.
The 2017 session, which began Wednesday, Jan. 11, is a short session. But even with two fewer weeks in which to do business, the assembly is likely to consider nearly 3,000 bills and resolutions. In past years, Mason has tracked far more than 200 bills, and sometimes nearly 300. President Ángel Cabrera and other senior leaders from Mason visit regularly with legislators about our key priorities and issues.
The bill-tracking process incorporates the expertise of many at Mason. A group of “issue advisors” reviews bills that relate to their area of campus responsibility. As the Richmond Office of State Government Relations staff reviews the bills proposed daily, relevant bills are posted for input from those on campus with appropriate expertise. Their input enables the staff to speak with authority on a wide range of Mason practices, on proposed legislation and the cost of proposed changes if they are implemented.
The list of bills the university is following and a description of the process used to review them, along with the list of issue advisors and the university’s legislative priorities, is available here.
The presence of so many thought leaders within the halls of the General Assembly Building also brings opportunities for outreach by the university. Teams from Mason host events to bring a greater awareness of their programs to a statewide audience. Areas that have frequently pursued this type of event include the Small Business Development Center network that operates out of the Mason Enterprise Center, the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution and Point of View.
Our highest profile outreach event each year, Mason Lobbies, is a partnership with Student Government. Each year, students from across the university’s colleges and schools, alongside faculty, staff and alumni, participate in a day of advocacy on behalf of the university. This year’s event is Jan. 25.
The event enables students to meet with their own representatives to make personal cases for investment on behalf of the university. The event enables us to reach a large group of legislators in a short time, and truly tell the story of Mason’s role in higher education for students from throughout the commonwealth and beyond. In addition, it is a terrific civic learning experience for students, whom we hope will continue to engage with those who represent them for years to come, whether on behalf of the university or other issues that matter to them.
Sabena Moretz-Van Namen is the state government relations manager in the Office of Government and Community Relations. She can be reached at email@example.com.