SA Senate delays vote on constitution updates, asks Board to allow SA president voting rights

The Student Association postponed a vote on changes to the organization’s constitution to give senators more time to review the proposed updates at a senate meeting Monday.

SA leaders unanimously approved a bill in December greenlighting an overhaul of the body’s constitution, the next phase in a larger effort to clarify the organization’s bylaws.

SA Sen. AJ Link, Law-G, presented the Constitutional Amendment Referendum of 2020, which advocates for simplifying the legislative, executive and judicial branches to clarify the separation of powers between branches. Senators delayed an official vote on changes to the constitution because they did not have enough time between receiving the document and the vote to make any informed voting decisions.

The bill is part of a larger effort to clarify the SA’s governing documents. Senators formed a committee in December that will discuss and propose changes to the constitution.

Senators debated whether transforming the senate into a bicameral system or refining its unicameral structure would be the best way to define the separation of powers within the legislative branch.  

Link said a bicameral legislative system would halve the senate into an undergraduate body and a graduate body that would meet separately and ultimately give graduate students their own chamber to produce a vote. He said disbanding first-year seats would streamline the SA voting process because the SA would not have to elect freshmen in the fall but could put their seats on the ballot during spring elections.

The current SA constitution appoints one undergraduate and one graduate senator from each school to serve on the SA. A certain number of first-years are voted on each fall but cannot vote until their second semester serving on the senate.

“We were under the impression that everyone in this body should be able to vote when they take a seat, and unfortunately the easiest way to do that would be eliminating first-year seats,” he said.

Sen. Kate Carpenter, U-at-Large, said the first-year seats give freshmen who might feel “intimidated” by older senators an opportunity to approach someone on the senate who is their own age. Carpenter added that serving in a seat as a freshman allowed her to learn how the SA works from watching older senators operate.

“It frankly struck a cord or hurts my heart that we are thinking of taking away the rights of first-year students to be first-year senators,” she said.

But Sen. Catherine Morris, CCAS-U, said keeping the unicameral system eliminates the logistical errors of requiring two chambers to present legislature to groups, like joint committees, for approval. She said if senators voted to eliminate first-year seats and keep the unicameral structure, the SA could still fill 20 undergraduate seats but increase the number of graduate seats from 23 to 27.

“The way in which it was framed in the current plan we have now seemed to have more logistical issues or be a further bureaucratic system,” Morris said.

The senate voted to delay approving changes to the constitution until the following senate meeting so senators could have more time to review the committee’s proposed updates. If and when the bill passes, students would need to vote on the changes in a referendum.

The senate also voted to change the number of days needed to add a referendum to the SA election ballot to 15 academic days. Previously, referendums needed to be added to the ballot within 10 class days of the candidate information session, which took place Feb. 24, according to Joint Election Commission bylaws.

Link said he will hold public forums in the next two weeks for senators to voice their concerns about the changes to the constitution.

The SA also unanimously passed a resolution asking officials to update campus spaces and amenities, like classroom furniture or ramps used to enter buildings, that do not currently comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1997.

The senate also unanimously passed a resolution requesting the Board of Trustees to appoint a permanent student position to the board. The legislation asks for the SA president to transition from an observing member to a voting member for two years, after which students will vote on a member each year during the spring SA elections.

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