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May 25, 2017

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Bill inspired by Snooki caps public university speaker fees

TRENTON -- A bill inspired by former "Jersey Shore" star Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi to cap what state public universities can pay to speakers was approved by lawmakers Thursday and now heads to the governor's desk.

The Democrat-controlled Assembly unanimously passed the legislation to cap the spending of state money at $10,000. The legislation is now up for consideration by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who has disparaged the MTV reality show as bad for the state's image.

Republican Assemblyman John DiMaio said he was inspired to write the measure after Snooki was paid $32,000 collected from student fees to speak at a student event at Rutgers University in 2011. Snooki's pay was $2,000 more than Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison received to speak at commencement.

Christie said at an unrelated event Thursday he wouldn't waste his time talking about the bill, which the state's Democrat-led Senate approved unanimously in June, but would consider it when it arrives at his desk.

"I've got much bigger issues to be concerned about in a state with a $35 billion budget, with all the different challenges and opportunities we have, than to be worried about micromanaging what universities in the state decide to pay their commencement speakers," Christie said.

Rutgers offers honorariums for commencement speakers paid for with money from its beverage contract with Coca-Cola and does not pay them using state money, university spokeswoman Karen Smith said. It's offering this year's commencement speaker, Steven Van Zandt, a $35,000 honorarium from the Coca-Cola deal, she said.

Student groups that invite speakers to campus pay them with money from student fees, mandatory fees paid by students, not from state funding, she said.

"Jersey Shore," which ran from 2009 to 2012, focused on the escapades of a group of young Italian-Americans at a shore house. Snooki's housemates included The Situation, Pauly D and JWoww.

Snooki wrote in her book "Strong is the New Sexy" that Christie's expression was "full of hate" after she introduced herself in 2013 when they were on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights. She has called the portly governor a bully and ridiculed his weight.

Many colleges struggle with tight budgets, and some have drawn sharp criticism for paying hefty speaking fees.

Last year The Associated Press asked 20 public universities with notable speakers to provide costs for their graduation speakers since 2015, including speaking fees and travel expenses.

Colleges that pay for celebrity speakers say they can impress donors and attract the interest of potential students. A notable speaker also is meant as a reward for the graduating class.

Last year, Kean University paid retired astronaut Mark Kelly and photographer Brandon Stanton a combined $80,000 to speak at its graduation ceremony.

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