The Daily Gamecock

Senate passes bill to provide legal services

Initiative would increase student activity fee by $3 next fall

Student Senate voted Wednesday to increase the Student Activity Fee from $80 to $83 to fund a new student legal services program beginning Fall 2012.

The bill must still be signed by Student Body President Joe Wright and USC President Harris Pastides and be approved by the board of trustees. The $112,400 service would hire an attorney and paralegal who could give students legal advice, review leases and other contracts and provide various other services. The exact services offered will depend on the expertise of the hired attorney.

Legal services will not include representation in court, criminal litigation, cases against the university, drinking violations, parking violations, cases involving traffic law or several other issues, but the attorney would be able to refer students to local lawyers.

Chase Mizzell, SG Chairman of the Student Services Committee, and Kenny Tracy, SG Secretary of Student Services, proposed the service. Now that the bill is passed by the Senate, Mizzell said his committee will organize a group to analyze exactly what services the plan will or will not be able to provide.

“We’re not finished,” Mizzell said. “It’s still developing.”

The vote follows a survey conducted by Student Government during SG Blitz Week that found 88 percent of the 364 students polled supported increased fees to fund legal services. Fifty-two percent of the students interviewed supported an increase of $3 or higher, while the rest supported a fee of $2 or less or no fee at all.

Mizzell said the committee explored pro bono work, law school students and other options for free, legal help, but said the benefit of a skilled, consistent attorney would be worth the price. Most students responded that they wanted help reviewing leases and dealing with landlords at off-campus housing complexes, Mizzell said. An attorney would be able to build better working relationships with such individuals than constantly cycling through volunteers.

A number of other SEC universities have student legal services, including the universities of Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“The services will be extremely similar to legal services at other schools,” Mizzell said.

Victoria Barker, a third-year marine science student, said she would find the service more helpful if it covered more things.

“But if I could just go to them for legal advice that would be good,” Barker said.

Kaitlin Daley, a first-year public relations student, said the fee increase was acceptable.

“I think it’s not bad for such a small increase to get a great benefit like that,” Daley said.