The Student Association Office of the Legislator General filed a complaint with the Student Court Monday to overturn sections of legislation that widened the SA Senate finance committee’s authority to regulate student organization financial activities.
SA Legislator General Holden Fitzgerald and assistant legislators general Juan Carlos Mora and Andrew Harding filed the complaint opposing sections of the Financial Reorganization Act – a bill that amended the SA’s finance bylaws in December, allowing the finance committee to impose sanctions and fines on student organizations that break from SA finance policies. The complaint argues that the legislation grants the finance committee unconstitutional power vested in the executive branch and the Student Court and violates due process.
“The committee has, in effect, aggrandized itself, as a legislative sub-entity, lacking the will of the entire Senate in imposing sanctions, with enforcement powers reserved for the executive branch,” the complaint reads.
Under the updated bylaws, the finance committee can fine student organizations at least 50 percent of their general allocation or 100 percent of either a line item or their remaining student body funds. The bylaws state that the finance committee also has the power to prohibit a student organization from receiving additional funding in the future.
Student organizations are prohibited from requesting funds for social media advertising services, miscellaneous costs and food and drinks at student organization meetings, according to the updated bylaws.
The plaintiffs argue that the bylaws permit the finance committee to oversee “financial disputes” involving student organization funding in violation of the SA Constitution, which states that the court should have jurisdiction over these disputes.
The complaint states that the legislation provides the finance committee with nearly “unilateral authority” over student organizations’ financial appeals, which should fall before the entire senate. The plaintiffs allege that the finance committee’s control of the appeals process violates the due process clause in the SA Constitution, which states that all registered student organizations are entitled to due process of law in front of the entire senate.
Appeals on funding requests from student organizations fall before the jurisdiction the entire senate, keeping with standards of due process, according to the finance bylaws.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to reverse any sanctions that the committee may have already imposed on student organizations and to clarify that enforcement of SA finance bylaws should fall under the purview of the SA treasurer.
“Maintaining the separation of powers is essential to prevent a single branch of government from consolidating power,” Harding said in a statement. “This Act grants the Senate a dangerous degree of unchecked power over student organizations. With over 22,000 students involved in over 500 student organizations unfairly subjected to the Senate’s self-appointed powers, the OLG looks forward to defending the student right to due process.”
SA Sen. Yan Xu, ESIA-U and chairperson of the finance committee and the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement that he plans to introduce legislation at the SA Senate meeting Monday “to address the issue” outlined in the complaint. He said he could have notified the legislator general’s office about the upcoming legislation, but the office did not reach out to him with any concerns about the bill before filing the complaint.
“The student body deserves an SA that focuses on important issues, not one that blindsides itself and causes meaningless internal conflicts,” Xu said in the statement. “Valuable time that I want to spend helping orgs with their finances must now be spent defending myself against a frivolous and unnecessary lawsuit. The student body deserves better than that, and I urge the OLG to do better.”
SA Vice President Kate Carpenter, who along with Xu is named as a defendant, did not return a request for comment.
The court issued an initial order in response to the complaint Monday, stating that the court will initially consider the case Sunday to determine whether it will rule on the case in an official hearing. The defendants must respond to the complaint by Saturday at 5 p.m., according to the order.