The Student Association Senate has seen a sharp decline in the number of bills and resolutions passed this semester.
The senate has passed four bills and resolutions so far this academic year – eight fewer than last fall and 23 fewer than the year before. SA leaders attributed the drop to a shift in focus to filling vacancies and completing behind-the-scenes, long-term advocacy projects that will have more impact than resolutions.
At the senate’s last meeting of the semester Monday, senators will debate one final bill reforming election procedures, potentially bringing the total legislation to five.
In past years, senators frequently proposed multiple bills and resolutions in each bimonthly meeting, but this semester four of the senate’s seven meetings transpired without any legislation being proposed.
SA Executive Vice President Sydney Nelson, who presides over the senate, said SA leadership made clear to senators early on in the year that they didn’t want to see legislation that “was empty and didn’t accomplish anything.”
“Senators aren’t just passing things to get a byline, but it’s really about authentically improving the student experience,” she said.
This year, the senate passed two resolutions – a call for the University to review its Title IX procedures and another criticizing spending on University President Thomas LeBlanc’s $500,000 inauguration last month. The senate also passed two bills, the first of which changed the structure of a senate committee and the second of which established a committee to review the Joint Elections Committee charter and reform SA election procedures.
She said senators have spent much of the first semester filling vacant positions – interviewing and approving candidates – a time-consuming process that resulted in the first full senate in recent history.
“Having representatives from every single community means there’s going to be advocacy projects in every single aspect of this University,” she said.
Nelson declined to say which specific projects senators are working on because she doesn’t “want to out any senator in their project.”
“A lot of times you’re doing behind-the-scenes work, but you don’t want to jeopardize any relationships or any of the work,” Nelson said.
In senate committee meeting minutes, senators described projects like increasing credit hours for organic chemistry labs from one to two, releasing final exam dates before the start of the school year and lowering the cost of laundry. Few of the projects have yet to come to fruition, but one senator successfully organized a freshman representative forum, which gathered 21 first-year leaders from student organizations last month.
Nelson said there has also been a focus on passing more meaningful legislation and shifting time and effort to work on advocacy projects outside of the senate floor. She said legislation often complements advocacy work, which can include partnerships with student organizations or officials to implement change.
SA President Peak Sen Chua, who has no formal role in the senate, said the bills and resolutions passed this year are commendable because they incorporated input from several people including senators, cabinet members and student organizations.
The Title IX resolution was a combined effort among the SA’s executive and legislative branches and Students Against Sexual Assault. Following the implementation of a new SA policy, student organizations can now endorse senate legislation and help craft resolutions or bills.
“The senate, regardless of the amount of bills it’s been doing, has been working behind-the-scenes to positively impact the student experience,” he said.
Sens. Imani Ross, U-at-Large, and Jan Yonan, CCAS-U, have been working on an informal task force conducting background research on prominent University building names to see if the names have a discriminatory or bigoted history. The project was announced in September.
Sen. Brady Forrest, G-at-Large, said the senate has worked throughout the fall semester to fill vacancies and pass resolutions but refrained from proposing “big and flashy” legislation.
“I think we are fulfilling everything bylaws ask of us. I think that we’re in some circumstances making the best of what’s handed to us,” he said. “We’ve done a really good job of following everything and making sure everything is done properly.”
Forrest said fewer bills are not decidedly good or bad because the senate has approached legislation with a different style this year – one that requires more preliminary work and research until projects come to fruition.
“Long-term advocacy goals are definitely what we’re looking for instead of ‘well I’ll put up a resolution just to make a statement,’” he said. “Ultimately those are kind of hit and miss if they actually produce a result.”
Sen. Devan Cole, CCAS-U and chair of the finance committee, said the amount of bills passed does not matter as much as the quality of each bill. He said the finance committee historically passes fewer pieces of legislation, but other committees may not propose new bills because they have many new members who are still learning to write legislation.
Only four candidates during last spring’s SA elections were returning senators, sparking concerns about an inexperienced senate.
“We go to work every week doing things that have a real impact, a tangible impact right away on campus for its students and student organizations,” he said. “For me at least, the fact that there haven’t been that many bills or resolutions passed doesn’t really concern me.”
Sarah Roach contributed reporting.