Updated: Dec. 3, 2018 at 10:17 a.m.
The Student Association Senate has passed four pieces of legislation this semester – the lowest number in at least four years.
The senate approved one resolution and three bills over the past three months, one fewer than last year’s senate and eight fewer than the previous year. For the second year, SA senators said they have strayed from writing legislation in favor of behind-the-scenes advocacy work they said will come to fruition next semester.
The full senate convened six times this semester, two less than last year because the senate held its first meeting two weeks into the fall semester. The senate presented and passed legislation in four of the six meetings.
The senate’s most recent piece of legislation was a resolution passed last month commending the University for updating its discrimination and harassment policies. Before that meeting, the senate passed three bills that changed the bylaws to allow first-year senators voting rights after their first semester and updated bylaws that govern the diversity and inclusion assembly and the SA’s operational rules.
Ojani Walthrust, the SA’s executive vice president, said the senate has proposed fewer pieces of legislation because senators are prioritizing the quality of each bill over the quantity.
“You can’t really judge how effective a body is by the amount of legislation that’s been passed because some of that legislation, if not given the time it needs, may not be the best legislation,” Walthrust said.
In years past, senators have attributed a low number of bills and resolutions in the full senate to senators being unprepared for meetings, not attending meetings or initiating long-term individual projects outside the full senate. Members of last year’s senate said they focused on filling vacancies in the body and poured energy into committee-based advocacy work, which took time away from drafting legislation.
Walthrust said the “environment” of the senate could have changed from last year because there is a different group of senators, but he declined to say what the environment looked like last academic year compared to this year. Walthrust was a senator in the finance committee last academic year.
“There’s obviously a difference because it’s a different year,” he said. “Each year is not the same.”
Walthrust added that aside from the four senators who have sponsored legislation this semester, no senators have considered drafting a bill or resolution.
He said the senate will likely pass more legislation next semester because first-year senators will be adjusted to the senate. The four senators who have sponsored legislation this fall had all served on the senate last year – but seven additional returning senators also have not proposed legislation.
Sydney Nelson, the SA’s former executive vice president, said the number of returning senators, vacancies on the senate, expectations of senate leadership and amount of time needed to draft legislation affect what resolutions and bills are drafted and considered by the senate.
Last year, the senate had just four returning senators and 17 empty seats, meaning that some senators who joined mid-semester missed training on how to write and utilize legislation. She said that in addition to the five bills the senate passed last fall, filling vacancies and debating 60 pages of bills that overhauled SA elections “took up a lot of our energy.”
She said senators were also planning projects behind the scenes in the fall, leading to several projects and proposals in the spring. She said the group debated 25 pieces of legislation in the spring.
“Legislation should never be proposed just for the sake of proposing it,” Nelson said. “Something we stressed last year was that writing legislation for the sake of grandstanding was not helpful or looked fondly upon.”
Sen. AJ Link, Law-G and the chairman of the diversity and inclusion assembly and student life committee, said senators in his committees have spearheaded individual projects that don’t require the approval of the full senate.
Since the semester began, senators in the student life committee have picked up projects originally started last academic year, like People for Periods and Hippo Day, and members of the diversity and inclusion assembly are rolling out a series of 10 town halls for minority groups throughout the year.
“I encourage everyone in student life to do whatever they think is best for whatever project they’re working on,” Link said. “So if that means writing legislation, I’m more than happy to help them write legislation. It doesn’t seem like that is something that is necessary right now.”
Link said he is focusing on revising each section of the bylaws as part of an ongoing effort to clean up SA rules throughout the academic year. The senate approved its first set of bylaw changes in late October, and Link said he has at least two more bills written that have not been brought to the full senate because they are still being revised.
“We don’t want empty legislation, we don’t want to have legislation just to have legislation,” he said. “That’s specifically why I want to work on the bylaws – it’s tangible and it needs to be done.”
Sen. Matt Ludovico, U-at-Large and the chairman of the finance committee, said that rather than drafting legislation this semester, he has encouraged his committee to bring larger co-sponsorships for debate in the full senate because the committee has historically had a reputation for being “fiscally conservative.”
He said committee chairpersons have mainly spearheaded legislation this semester because a majority of senators are not tenured and do not yet have experience writing legislation.
“Right now, a lot of legislation is being passed by senate leadership so it sets an example for the rest of the senate,” Ludovico said.