Q&A with StuGov Governmental Affairs: Director outlines legislative agenda


Future Student liaison Robert Bingham, Kody Olson, and recently appointed member of Ames Transit board Juan Bibiloni at Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

Alex Connor

For Senior Director of Governmental Affairs Kody Olson, his time in Student Government office will be filled with addressing issues concerning students, but not exactly at a campus level. 

In his position, Olson looks beyond the scope of the university and into the city and state to lobby for and raise concern on issues impacting Iowa State students.

This year — at a state level — Olson’s legislative agenda includes college affordability, student well-being and student inclusion. At a city level, Olson hopes to address tenant and landlord relations, campus and community relations and community safety.

For Olson, the agenda is a living document, and he encourages students to provide their input on issues they would like to see addressed this year. 

In a question-and-answer session with the Daily, Olson touched on his goals this year:

State of Iowa

Q: Do you mind telling me about the low interest loan program?

A: We’re recognizing the challenges that students have now, and the challenges that students will have in the next five years as tuition continues to increase. A program that we’re looking at researching into – and this was brought forth by a couple different stakeholders – is a low interest loan program to be set up by the state of Iowa that an interest rate would vary by how many hours a student works on a job per week. If you were to work in a part-time job like ISU Dining and work 20 hours, you may get 2 percent loan as an example. 

The reason we’re going toward a low interest loan program is we feel more confident in the ability to go after a loan program rather than a grant program because … it’s more accessible and more easy to accomplish.

One thing that you won’t see on there, but that goes without saying is lobbying for state appropriations to fund the university the best that we can. 

Q: Your agenda addresses mental health, sexual assault and campus safety … what is your hope for that?

A: The theme for all three of those is making sure that legislators are aware of the great problems that we have on campus. We want to look at other states and see what they’ve passed and what they’ve been successful in so we’re looking at seeing what other states have accomplished that we can bring to the state of Iowa. We don’t have any specific policy changes that we’re pushing for in any of those three categories, but one important aspect is getting funding for the resources that we have on campus using state appropriations.

You’ll also notice one of those [issues] is bring back medical amnesty. We got it through senate, we’re going to get it through house this time and hopefully get it up to a vote and hopefully that is going to be an easy project to knock out. But we’re confident about achieving medical amnesty this legislative session. 

Q: The protected class status for LGBTQ students, do you mind touching on that?

A: In the state of Iowa, your sexual orientation is not a protected class in hate speech, in violent crimes, in housing discrimination – all sorts of discrimination. So, one way that we’re looking at making the state of Iowa safer for LGBTQ students is by making that a protected class so that students feel comfortable going here, have the same opportunities that everyone else has and the same civil and legal protections.

City of Ames

Q: Would you mind running through the city topics [landlord/tenant relationship, campus and community relations, community safety] and why you feel they are important for your team to address?

A: So tenant and landlord relations is every year. Housing is always a big issue in the city of Ames. One of the things that [Cody West and Cody Smith] campaigned on was closing that lease gap. They’ve been largely successful in working with the university to provide university housing for some of those students that did have that lease gap.

Another program that we’re looking at implementing – or actually is already there, it just needs to be promoted – is a program called RentSmart. It provides a certification, or brand, to landlords in the city of Ames certifying that they are friendly to work with students. [You can check] wheelchair accessibility, if it allows pets, if it is close to a CyRide – all those different things that matter to students. The RentSmart program was funded by Student Government years ago. The website is pretty much built, so we’re looking at vamping that back up.

The second issue is campus and community relations. What that really focuses on is how the ISU student interacts with the city of Ames. A lot of people, they’re kind of on this bubble on campus and the city of Ames and living in their own world. It’s kind of tough sometimes to see those communities interact with each other. We’re also looking at Campustown parking.

Q: Under community safety you all have citywide medical amnesty, what is that?

A: The reason that is on there is both the University of Iowa and the University of Northern Iowa have official policy on how to handle an alcohol-medical related incident whereas police will provide that medical amnesty we’re advocating for on a state level. Informally, ISU Police Department does practice medical amnesty but we’re looking into getting an actual policy written to protect students even more.

Q: This is a lot to do… come May when you’re done with this position, what do you hope that you are able to accomplish?

A: The first is medical amnesty. We’re very confident that we’re going to get that accomplished. I would finish my term happily if we finished that off. Additionally, as far as the state level, it would be fantastic to introduce some new policies, some new legislation – whether that’s protecting LGBTQ citizens of Iowa or that low interest loan program – that would be fantastic. 

Really, what I want to do is leave these policies better than when I inherited them and leave them for my predecessors to continue them even further.

As far as the city of Ames, there a lot of issues right now as far as student housing and how we as a community interact with the city of Ames. One of my big priorities is making sure that students do have that voice in the city of Ames. I think a lot of students feel that Ames is an entirely separate location than campus, so looking at making sure the two cohesively work together.