Student Association leaders are taking the first steps to overhaul the SA Senate’s governing documents.
SA leaders said the senate’s bylaws – a 100-page document of governing rules that dictate how the SA functions – will be updated to clarify vague language that hinders senators’ understanding of legislation and SA rules. They said updates, like clarifying the language for suspension or removal processes and budget allocations, will allow the senate to function more smoothly and prevent confusion about ambiguous rules.
Sen. Anisha Hindocha, Law-G and senate pro-tempore, said the senate’s four chairpersons are planning to meet once a month to evaluate each section of the bylaws and fix any grammatical or wording errors. The group met for the first time Tuesday, she said.
Hindocha said she wants to focus on updating bylaws that govern the Joint Elections Commission, the group that oversees SA elections, because law students running for a position cannot poster outside of the law school under the current bylaws, limiting the areas where law school senators can promote themselves ahead of elections.
The bylaws are broken up into six sections that outline the procedures for censure and suspension, senate finances, the duties of the executive branch, legislative and meeting processes and the Joint Elections Commission charter.
“It’s sort of an informal, ‘Hey, we’re going to get together once a month or so, go through the 100 levels, see what the problems are, hopefully come out with a solution for them and then write a bill, tackle it,’ and then that section’s done as far as we’re concerned,” Hindocha said.
So far this year, the senate passed a bill to update the SA’s diversity and inclusion assembly to make the language more inclusive of students from all multicultural student groups. The senate also voted to standardize the appointment process for first-year senators to allow them to undergo the same vetting process as all other senators.
Sen. AJ Link, Law-G and the chairman of the student life committee, said he wants the senate to focus on bylaws that deal with senators’ attendance at meetings. He said the suspension procedure for senators who miss meetings is currently dependent on whether the chairperson wants to initiate the proceedings.
He said clarifying the bylaws’ language will set a standard for how many meetings senators can miss before facing suspension, but he has not yet discussed the bylaws with other chairpersons to determine how they can change the rule.
“A chair has to enact it, so technically someone could miss seven-straight meetings and if their chair doesn’t care and doesn’t move to suspend that senator, nothing’s wrong,” Link said. “I don’t think that’s right.”
Sen. Matt Ludovico, U-at-Large and chair of the finance committee, said he plans to update the Level 300 bylaws – which focus on the financial affairs of the SA – by January before his committee starts allocating money to student organizations in March.
He said he will work with other committee members and SA leaders to reword the “finance jargon” in the bylaws so the committee can clarify what the committee allocates money for, like room fees and transportation.
“I hope to make them more clear and concise so that when orgs come to apply for money in the spring, they know exactly how money is distributed to organizations,” he said in an email.
Sen. Finley Wetmore, SEAS-U and chair of the academic affairs committee, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
SA Executive Vice President Ojani Walthrust said there is a “problem” with certain sections of the bylaws, like the section called “chairman pro tempore,” because the language is not gender-inclusive.
“Confusing bylaws can create ambiguity and lead to back and forth and incognizance in the senate,” he said in an email.
Sydney Nelson, the SA’s former executive vice president, said the current bylaws need a “complete scrub” because unclear bylaws force senators to determine them using their own interpretation rather than rely on more “straightforward” rules for guidance. She said last year’s senate ran into this problem when the group considered impeachment proceedings for a former senator, but since the senate rarely references that section of the bylaws, “there’s just not a lot to go off of.”
“Things can get tricky with bylaws when you try to move it to the floor the night before and you rush through the process rather than planning ahead with the bylaws and being really thoughtful about what language is changing, why you’re changing it, what other ramifications it will have,” Nelson said.
Nelson said the bylaws are the senate’s “guiding star” to understand all procedural processes, like submitting legislation and suspending bylaws.
“If you don’t have the framework to structure those conversations and those actions around, you’re kind of operating in anarchy,” she said.