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Senate votes down SSD bill

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Green Store cups are biodegradable. They are not; they are recyclable.

It appears that the Student Services Division (SSD) will have to go back to the budget drawing board after a bill requesting Senate approval for the SSD to move to special fees was shot down after the petition already garnered more than 900 signatures in its current format on Tuesday.

Although the SSD petition was originally intended to bypass Senate approval in favor of garnering 15 percent of voter approval, a stipulation in the joint bylaws makes SSD a special case as an “agency of the ASSU” subject to the Senate’s approval. Without it, the petition will not be placed on the ballot, regardless of how many supporting votes it gathers.

Alex Katz ’12, the chair of the Administration & Rules Committee, remained firmly opposed to officer salaries for the SSD, which he claimed are “an explicit contradiction of [the Senate’s funding] policies.” Katz made an exception for one stipend of $1,000 to be allotted for the SSD director.

Katz said that two additional amendments would need to be made to the bill in order to garner his support — that line items allotted to the Wellness Room be removed from the budget, and to strip Tutoring for Community of funding. According to Katz, provisions for these services can be better mitigated under the general fee. He advocated for all but one salary, the director’s, to be removed.

Senate Chair Varun Sivaram ’11 challenged Katz’s demand for amendments by suggesting that the question of whether a budget is worth student dollars ought to be posed directly to the student body, rather than debated and vetoed by a Senate internally divided.

“Students are just as capable of deciding whether salaries are appropriate. That’s perfectly valid to be on a ballot and for democracy to decide,” Sivaram said, adding, “student power over the petition power needs to be increased.”

ASSU Vice President Andy Parker ‘11 rejected all of Katz’s amendments, defending over 900 signatures that have already been placed in favor of SSD’s placement on the ballot. He suggested that amending the bill would be confusing and misleading to those who have already voted.

In a 9-to-5 vote in favor of the bill, it was voted down after failing to garner two-thirds support.

The petition itself will remain available and individual line items can be reduced to meet the Senate’s standards up until March 18.

A number of senators have suggested that the Wellness Room and Green Store in particular could be siphoned off the SSD’s budget and go through the motions in the fall on the general fee.

Senator Anton Zietsman ’12, chair of the Appropriations Committee, suggested that the Green Store could make room on a general fee budget to be funded for its recyclable cups, for example.

Senator Michael Cruz ’12, however, called Tuesday’s meeting a “travesty,” suggesting that Zietsman twisted the policies to his fancy, rather than fully considering how these policies currently function.

“I would accuse Senator Zietsman of . . . misinterpreting his own policies,” Cruz said in an interview with The Daily. According to a general fees policy, Cruz said, groups cannot request funding for goods or services for which they will subsequently charge students.

“There are exceptions to that,” Zietsman said defending of the policy’s flexibility. He cited the Viennese Ball and Black Graduation in particular as groups that do receive funding from the general fee and do charge for services.

“It’s all based on the services they provide, which is why I am convinced the Green Store will survive next year under the general fee,” he said.

In an interview with The Daily, Katz seemed convinced that Parker would make the suggested amendments to the petition and that the Senate would subsequently pool its resources by “doing all we can to help these groups succeed on the general fee to make sure that they get the funding they need and the funding they deserve.”

While the current Senate’s ability to exercise oversight over the incoming one remains doubtful, Katz has suggested a number of measures that the body will implement to do its best to do come just short of guaranteeing funding for the various arms of SSD.

ASSU Cabinet Salaries and Discretionary Spending, Again Taken To Task

Katz’s vehement disagreement with Parker’s SSD bill piggybacked off a bill he does support: to strip ASSU salaries, authored by Robert Hennessy, parliamentarian for the Graduate Student Council. That bill would slash stipends almost indiscriminately, preserving only a few highly demanding ASSU positions. In its current form, 15 to 17 cabinet members receive salaries of $950 each. The bill would also demand Senate approval for the executive’s spending more than $1,000 of its discretionary budget.

“Would you really look at an average student in the face and say the most productive use of $20,000 is to pay a bunch of people in the executive cabinet?” Katz asked.

Parker suggested, however, that a baseline salary of at least $500 was essential for some cabinet members who, because of financial constraints, could not serve their posts without a stipend. The small salary is crucial toward “incentivizing participation,” Parker said.

The Senate and executives remain at odds on the issue, which will likely be put to vote next week.

Free Speech Bill Underway

Senator Adam Creasman ’11, along with Parker, drafted legislation to codify freedom of speech on campus — a project that has been underway for several months now, particularly in light of the Westboro Baptist Church’s appearance at Hillel in January and challenges to student organizing in White Plaza.

“There is very little institutional memory in terms of students demanding rights for themselves, so I think it’s incumbent upon us to codify these rights,” Creasman said.

If the senate approves the bill, and if two-thirds of student voters (half undergraduate and half graduate student populations) approve it during elections, the bill would be submitted for approval by the University president, representing the Board of Trustees.

Creasman suggested that decisive constitutional action makes this bill “less of a publicity stunt and more of an actual piece of legislation that is cooperative with the Board of Trustees and the administration.”

In other business, graduate student Raj Bhandari was confirmed as next year’s ASSU financial manager and all recommended general fee bills and funding modifications passed, as well as recommended special fee bills for 2010-11.

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