Students lobby bill in nation’s capital

Business senior Dawn Winston traveled with U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas’ 32nd District to Washington D.C., to lobby in favor of a bill that would allow groups to make charitable donations to non-profit, non-university sponsored housing for college students. | Courtesy of Dawn Winston

The Capital Fraternal Caucus was in Washington D.C. over the weekend, lobbying for a bill that will allow organizations to make charitable donations to non-profit, non-university sponsored housing for college students without losing their tax-exempt status.

The CFC is composed of organizations associated with the North-American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference. The CFC was in Washington D.C. to participate in the 2010 NIC/NPC Congressional visits and lobby for the Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act of 2009.

Representing more than 50 universities nationwide, 100 Greek leaders, including UH business management senior and Phi Mu fraternity member Dawn Winston, requested support for the bill from legislators.

“We currently have 185 House sponsors and 28 Senate sponsors for this bill,” Winston said.

Winston said that Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) are among those already in support of the bill. UH’s Student Government Association also supports the CHIA.

Winston, who traveled with her fraternity NPC delegate Donna Stallard, teammate Adam Anderson from Chi Phi fraternity at Texas A&M and Chi Phi National Fraternity Executive Director Michael Azarian, were chosen out of 500 applicants who hoped to represent their schools and organizations at the Congressional visits.

“Students were chosen on the basis of their involvement in their school, their organization and their interest to improve Greek life for students nationwide,” Winston said.

Current law allows only organizations that give charitable donations to university-sponsored housing to remain tax exempt. If CHIA passes, it will allow for more donations to be given to non-university housing. The donations are needed to fund safety and structural renovations such as the installment of automatic fire sprinkler systems or security alarms.

Non-university housing is often not equipped with the same safety features that university housing offers.

“This is important because it directly affects over a quarter-million students nationwide,” Winston said.

UH is home to more than 40 fraternities and sororities.  Some of those organizations reside in non-university housing off campus.  In 2004, the Phi Kappa Theta house caught fire, killing its German shepherd, Nila. Winston said that fraternities and sororities rely on private donations to make the renovations that prevent incidents like this.

“These donations, however, are not tax deductible, unlike a donation made to a university; therefore (they) are less common,” Winston said.

In addition to making non-university housing safer, Winston said that the bill would make it cheaper to go to college.

“This also will keep college housing costs down and, therefore, make college more affordable,” Winston said. “Students will be able to have the option of having affordable and safe housing without discriminating on the non-profit organization.”

Winston said that the bill is anticipated to pass this year.

“It is such a small bill that it needs to be passed with a bigger bill as a vehicle to make it to the House and Senate floor,” she said.

If CHIA passes, Winston said that it would provide $1 billion in planning and construction, and this in turn would create jobs.

“Nationally, from what’s already been documented, over $1 billion are needed in renovations and safety upgrades alone for current fraternity and sorority housing,” Winston said.

Winston also said that while CHIA would enhance living situations for fraternities and sororities, all students would benefit.

“It’s not just for Greeks,” Winston said.

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