On Oct. 30, senators and Student Government officials met for a vigorous and contentious debate over removal of Student Government’s judicial branch and separation of the Student Conduct Board from Student Government. Additionally, senators fought over a resolution calling for expulsion of a senator.
The meeting began with a presentation by Eric Hawkes, executive director at Wellness and Recreation. Hawkes spoke about the department’s programs and facilities and said the Carmichael Gymnasium complex saw approximately 1,200,000 visits in the last year.
Hawkes also spoke about the department’s plan for upcoming years, saying the Wellness and Recreation building under construction is set to finish around October 2020, and solicited feedback from senators.
Board of Elections chair Samantha Saunders, a fifth-year studying polymer and color chemistry and anthropology, gave a report about the status of the board, noting two commissioners had completed their terms and three commissioners were up for appointment.
Kaylee Wells, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry, was appointed to an open senator position in the Graduate and Lifelong Education delegation.
Three students were appointed as commissioners to the Board of Elections:
- Jacob Morton, a fourth-year studying social work
- Jonah Wilkes, a second-year studying political science
- Jodi Svetaketu, a fourth-year studying spanish
College of Humanities and Social Sciences Sen. Valeria Mera, a fourth-year studying political science, was appointed director of Sustainability for Student Government’s Executive branch; as a result, she will no longer serve as a senator.
Three pieces of legislation were placed on Senate’s Consent Agenda; anything placed on this agenda will automatically be approved unless five senators rise in opposition. None did, so the three were automatically passed.
GB 72 - Statutes Typo Act - Passed in Consent Agenda
This bill simply fixed a typo in the Student Body Statutes dealing with the Committee on Student Relations.
SR 73 - Legislation Standardization Act - Passed in Consent Agenda
This resolution formally adopts the practice of requiring the use of first and last names for sponsors and signatories, in the interest of providing clarity when two senators referenced on the same legislation share a last name.
FB 58 - Appropriations Reallocation Act - Passed in Consent Agenda
The appropriations committee had $1,159.14 left over for fall 2019 appropriations and reallocated these funds to be used for spring 2020 appropriations.
GB 67 - The Shrinking GRO Act - Unanimously Passed
This act aims to revise the role of the Special Investigation Committee to take some responsibilities currently held by the Government Relations and Oversight Committee (GRO), including oversight on censure hearings. Additionally, this provides a formal grievance process outside of censure and revises some aspects of Senate’s punitive process.
College of Sciences Sen. Molly Vanhoy, a second-year studying microbiology and chair of the GRO committee, spoke about the rationale behind the bill, saying it effectively ceases GRO’s normal functions because the censure becomes prioritized.
“In the 98th session, during a censure hearing and during a set of censure hearings, GRO had a hard time being able to function and review legislation normally,” Vanhoy said. “If you are unfamiliar with the punitive process as it stands, it does require GRO to meet several times over, at a minimum, of two weeks.”
Vanhoy spoke about her experience in a censure hearing in the previous session and said that seven sponsors felt excessive.
“Being a sponsor on legislation means that you think it’s important enough for the Senate to hear it, and you think it’s important enough for the issue to be thought of more,” Vanhoy said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with every single thing that’s in the bill. That’s my interpretation of sponsorship."
Graduate and Lifelong Education Sen. Coleman Simpson, a first-year graduate student in agricultural leadership, raised concerns about the formal grievance process. The legislation would increase the required number of sponsors on a bill bringing up allegations.
Currently, five senators are required to sponsor such a piece of legislation. This legislation would aim to bring that number up to seven, but Simpson said this would make the grievance process overly cumbersome.
Simpson later suggested an amendment to strike this change and maintain five sponsors, which Vanhoy supported.
“I am in favor of putting it back to five, because I also think that by starting a formal grievance process and using it, we are setting the precedent that you have conversations before you bring formal charges,” Vanhoy said. “If you have conversations and nothing changes, then you should have plenty of people that are willing to say, ‘We tried this, nothing happened, we need to move forward with censure.’”
The amendment was approved, and the bill passed.
R 68 - Condemning Sexist Behaviors Act - Unanimously Passed
This resolution provides a stance formally condemning sexist comments recently made by associate professor David Davis in a Physics 211 lecture on Oct. 1.
GB 69 - Student Conduct Board Independence Act - Failed After Contentious Debate
This bill aims to entirely remove the Judicial Branch from Student Body Statutes. As it stands currently, the only body in the judicial branch is the Student Conduct Board, which has little overlap or oversight with the other branches: executive, which includes the student body president and their cabinet, and legislative, which includes Student Senate and its committees.
This change would not remove the Student Conduct Board, but rather would give it independence from Student Government. The board currently is overseen by the Office of Student Conduct; this would not change.
College of Engineering Sen. Sam Brohaugh, a third-year studying civil engineering, supported the change, outright saying the judicial branch has no influence on the other two branches.
“We have a judicial branch in Student Government that is entirely made up of the Student Conduct Board,” Brohaugh said. “The Student Conduct Board sees cases on behalf of students, and is housed under the Office of Student Conduct. That’s where their governing documents rest, that’s where their authority rests, and so they have no real influence on the other branches of Student Government, and the same goes with us for them.”
College of Sciences Sen. Jacob Sebastian, a fifth-year studying political science, argued that while he supported moving the Student Conduct Board out of Student Government, he disagreed with getting rid of the judicial branch entirely and argued it may remove the possibility for oversight in the future.
Combative debate ensued after Sebastian suggested an amendment to keep an empty, placeholder judicial branch section in the Student Body Statutes and alter the long title of the bill.
“Basically, I think it’s a miscarriage of our democracy to get rid of the judicial branch,” Sebastian said. “I agree that Student Conduct [Board] should not be in Student Government; that conversation has been going on for years now. But just whole-hog get rid of the judicial branch, I think is not only a miscarriage of our democracy, but a misuse of our power as senators, that we’re just going to decide we don’t need judicial oversight.”
Sebastian acknowledged the existing judicial branch holds no oversight over the rest of Student Government, but argued the judicial branch should be where such oversight would exist in the future.
Vanhoy vehemently opposed the amendment, arguing that it would change the meaning of the legislation.
“I would encourage all of you to vote against this amendment,” Vanhoy said. “It does change the intent of the legislation, and while that may not be an official ruling that we have, I personally am very uncomfortable with changing legislation when it is presented to the floor, and I am personally very uncomfortable with changing intent of legislation when it is brought to the floor.”
Sebastian disputed Vanhoy’s argument that the amendment would change intent.
“If you look at any of the statements given by the sponsors or the chief justice, the intent of this legislation is to remove Student Conduct [Board] from Student Government,” Sebastian said. “The intent of the legislation is to remove Student Conduct [Board] from Student Government, not remove judicial oversight from Student Government.”
Poole College of Management Sen. Thomas Walsh, a second-year studying business administration, echoed Vanhoy’s concerns.
“Mirroring what another senator said, I’m extremely uncomfortable with changing the intent of legislation as it is being proposed on the floor,” Walsh said. “In addition, it seems irresponsible to leave an effectively empty statute, especially if it is under consideration that that statute is later going to be changed. This only seeks to add confusion to the process.”
Brohaugh also noted that this amendment was actually in conflict with an existing part of the legislation, an “enacted” clause stipulating that on passage of this bill, all references to the judicial branch were to be removed from statutes.
Graduate and Lifelong Education Sen. Paul Cray, a third-year Ph.D. student in comparative biomedical sciences and appropriations committee chair, argued the amendment was more or less pointless.
“It does nothing other than just cause chaos in terms of defining what is supposed to be happening here,” Cray said. “The intent of the bill is supposed to completely remove the Judicial system or branch from government. By putting it back in, it was confusing people, and having a blank space in statutes was very unnerving.”
The amendment eventually failed.
Sebastian pressed other senators to vote against the legislation entirely, maintaining his position that removing the judicial branch would limit oversight potential.
“You guys care about process, so care about this process: removing the judicial branch,” Sebastian said. “I would encourage everyone to vote no on this legislation, because it’s nonsensical to me to remove the judicial branch without any plan to replace it.”
In later debate, a few senators argued that the oversight a judicial branch may provide already exists through committees such as GRO, so implementing an additional branch to do so felt redundant.
Student Chief Justice Kiera Jonson, a fourth-year studying microbiology, said that the removal stipulated in this legislation would leave the conduct board unchanged in its day-to-day operations.
Though debate against the bill was almost entirely sustained by Sebastian’s comments, the bill ended up failing with 16 votes in support, 27* against and three abstentions. Following the failure, Simpson suggested reconsidering the legislation, which opened up additional debate.
“There have been discussions on what to do with the branch, whether we turn it into a completely internal judicial branch, whether we create a commission or department that is a judiciary body,” Simpson said. “We have explored multiple options; the prevailing side essentially is that it is best right now to remove it, and we can figure out that stuff later.”
Simpson argued that because of the dynamic nature of statutes, changes and proposals for replacing the judicial branch could theoretically be proposed as early as next week.
“If this had passed and someone wanted to create a new judicial branch, that bill could’ve been introduced next week, and it could’ve happened,” Simpson said. “The reason I want to reconsider this is because I want to recommit it back to GRO so they have another option to flesh out these issues. I don’t think anyone wanted to not get rid of Conduct [the Student Conduct Board], because that is not the issue. The issue is what do we do with the hole left by Conduct.”
The move to reconsider failed, so the bill remained failed.
SR 70 - Judicial Branch Referendum Act - Moved Back to Committee
SImilarly to the previous bill, this resolution aims to split the Student Conduct Board away from Student Government, but while GB 69 dealt with changing Student Body Statutes, this aims to change the Student Government Constitution. Any such change requires a referendum vote involving the entire student body with ⅔ votes in support.
Because GB 69 failed and this resolution is associated with it, senators agreed that it would be wise to move this resolution back to committee.
SR 71 - Hui Expulsion Act - Failed After Debate
Division of Academic and Student Affairs Sen. Cristian Hui, a second-year in business administration and computer science, has accumulated 12 absences in the current session of Student Government. Hui did not communicate sufficiently with GRO or the student senate president about absences, nor did he come to attendance hearings, and thus the resolution sets to expel him from Senate.
Hui attended the meeting and spoke about how scheduling conflicts and adding a major made it difficult to attend Senate meetings.
“I’d like to first formally apologize to everybody for the lack of communication with my absences,” Hui said. “Prior to the beginning of this semester, I did not know whether I could fully commit to this position as senator.”
Hui also spoke about how he had a specific time conflict, because he was in another organization that met at the same time as Senate. He had since left that organization, allowing him more time to attend Senate.
Several senators argued that because Hui made efforts to free up his schedule and came to the Senate meeting, it showed he was making meaningful efforts to stay in his position and therefore should stay as a senator.
Others, like College of Humanities and Social Sciences Sen. Erinn Foote, a second-year studying political science and Senate secretary, said that while it was admirable Hui came to the Senate meeting, it was not enough.
“I do acknowledge that it is [admirable] that the senator has come to defend himself; I don’t want this to be overshadowed at all,” Foote said. “I do want us to consider as a Senate that the senator has only come to one meeting. We’ve had several; we’re almost halfway over, basically. Furthermore, this seat could have been filled with someone who did want to come.”
With 12* votes in support, 30* against and three abstentions, this resolution failed, and Hui remained a senator.
*Editor's note: Vote counts acquired from Student Government's spreadsheet were incorrect and have been fixed.