A student walks over University Ave on the Arizona State University campus Thursday, Sept. 23, 2010 in Tempe.

Matt York, AP file

In a move that could cripple the organization, Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation Friday to block the state's three universities from collecting fees for the Arizona Students Association.

The measure, which will take effect this summer, specifically bars universities from transferring any portion of any fees collected from students to any organization that is not controlled or under the purview of the state Board of Regents.

As approved, the legislation does not mention any targets.

But proponents, led by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, made it clear he wanted to end the current practice where universities helped, at least indirectly, the student group.

Students voted years ago to have what amounts to an automatic dues system for the association which lobbies on behalf of issues of concern to students.

Under that plan, the universities add $2 a semester to each student's bill. Those who want out can request a refund, in writing, at the beginning of each semester.

The fee remained noncontroversial until last year when it was learned the association had contributed $120,000 in support of Proposition 204. That measure would have created a permanent one-cent hike in the state sales tax, with most of the proceeds earmarked for education.

It was opposed, however, by most legislative Republicans as well as the governor herself and eventually was defeated.

That brought the issue to the attention of the Board of Regents which last year suspended fee collection for the spring semester.

The board eventually did agree to reinstate the fees -- but only on an opt-in basis. That requires the association to get students to affirmatively say they want to pay the extra $2 ahead of time.

That led to a lawsuit by the association against the regents, contending that the change amounted to illegal retaliation for its political stance. That case is still pending in federal court.

Brewer's signature on the legislation makes the question of opt-in or opt-out moot, as it bars universities from using their own billing processes to collect funds for any group outside of the control of the regents. But attorney Stephen Montoya said the lawsuit continues to recover the funds that were not collected this spring.

The legislation was crafted to permit universities to continue to provide financial support for each school's student government as well as any "university recognized student organizations.''

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