Students push PAULA bill in Des Moines


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DES MOINES — Some members of the UI Student Government aren’t content with UI students’ reputation as apathetic boozers.

So eight student representatives traveled to Des Moines to lobby state lawmakers face-to-face.

Their top issue? Easing the burden for students with alcohol charges.

But proposed legislation aimed at loosening the grip of PAULAs isn’t just a convenience for the 819 young people issued PAULAs by Iowa City police in 2009; students and lawmakers alike said it would be a wise economic move for the state.

If passed into law, the bill would allow young Iowans to petition to have an underage drinking offense expunged from their records. The rule would only apply to people who do not receive another offense in the two-year period after the initial alcohol ticket.

UISG officials, including President Mike Currie and Vice President JD Moran, said PAULAs are often the result of a one-time judgment lapse. But some employers and graduate programs snub applicants because of a single offense, the student representatives said.

“The significant help for our graduates is in terms of getting jobs or getting better jobs,” Currie told lawmakers.

Additionally, proximity to alcohol, not just consumption, is grounds for a PAULA — and students argued those charged shouldn’t be punished with a PAULA record.

UISG governmental-relations liaison Sam Konchar led the lobbying effort. He talked one-on-one with state senators and representatives Thursday, most of whom agreed to support the legislation.

“There’s plenty of support on the Democratic side and the Republican side,” he said. “It sounds like it’s a big priority, especially with the high unemployment right now.”

The bill recently moved out of committee and is ready to be discussed in the House of Representatives, but it could meet resistance from older lawmakers.

“There are some people who will have some questions about ‘Why are we doing this? They shouldn’t be drinking,’ ” Rep. Geri Huser, D-Altoona, said. “It’s like, ‘Look, remember back when 60 years ago when you were a kid? We make mistakes.’ ”

That’s why, officials said, it’s important for students’ fresh faces to speak to veteran lawmakers.

“I think it’s always very helpful when students come down here and talk about the issues they know more about than we do,” said Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, a UI alumnus. “It’s very educational for us when students come down and talk about the real issues they’re dealing with in Iowa City or in Ames that we don’t necessarily deal with as legislators in our lives.”

While the UI employs a professional lobbyist to pursue the university’s interests on the state level, he said, students can offer a unique perspective.

“They’re able to put a face on what some of the budget numbers mean,” said Keith Saunders, the director of state relations for the UI. “They’re able to tell their story, and you know when trying to convince people to invest in something it’s helpful to see what they’re investing in, and that’s the students.”

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