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Senate debates structure and policies, prepares for transition

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At its April 16 meeting, the ASSU Undergraduate Senate debated issues surrounding the policies and structure of the Senate, including the organization of committees, whether senators should be allowed to study abroad and how many Senate seats should be reserved for upperclassmen.

Before a lengthy discussion of concerns regarding the transition to next year’s Senate, senators heard updates from ASSU Assistant Financial Manager Stephen Trusheim ’13 M.S. ’14 and Elections Commissioner Brianna Pang ’13.

Pang asked the Senate to consider allocating funds to the Legal Counseling Office (LCO), the only special fees group that did not receive funding from the student body. According to Pang, the LCO’s request for approximately $130,000 in special fees failed to pass by a margin of just 17 votes.

Incoming ASSU Executives Dan Ashton ’14 and Billy Gallagher ’14 said that they hope to work with the Senate to ensure that the LCO receives the necessary funding to operate next year, with Ashton calling the LCO “the most important of all the groups” and serving “an incredibly important mission.”

Senators agreed to continue the discussion about funding the LCO at future meetings.

Several newly-elected senators present at the meeting were asked to provide input on issues that have been debated in the Senate’s transition sub-committee, including the Senate’s study abroad policy. The Senate’s Bylaws currently state that senators who study abroad during their term will be expelled from the Senate.

In a straw poll conducted by Senator Viraj Bindra ’15, 10 senators recommended making no change to the Bylaws, and two voted to consider allowing senators to study abroad in spring quarter, provided they had a “compelling reason” and declared their intent to study abroad during their campaign.

“I think it is really necessary to have hopefully all 15 people here all three quarters,” said Senator Shahab Fadavi ’15, who supported leaving the Bylaws unchanged.  “Looking back in retrospect this year, there was some difficulty in us trying to pass votes.”

The Senate also addressed potentially restructuring the current committee system. Senator Kimberly Bacon ’15 said that the two committees most in need of “revamping” were Student Life and Academic Affairs.

Deputy Chair Garima Sharma ’15 said that the transition sub-committee had discussed either merging the Student Life and Academic Affairs committees or alternately disbanding them and appointing point people to lead specific project teams.

Fadavi, current chair of the Academic Affairs committee, argued against disbanding the committees.

“Those are two big committees that handle big, big issues,” Fadavi said. “Especially with Academic Affairs, I do recommend that there be a chair of the committee and a deputy chair because when you are dealing with administrators, they often want to talk with someone they see as a representative of that group.”

In a straw poll, seven senators recommended disbanding the committees, and four voted to make no changes to the current system.

Senators also discussed reforming the Appropriations Committee. Bindra presented two alternatives to the current committee structure—either requiring every senator to rotate through the Appropriations Committee or asking all senators to be knowledgeable about appropriations and help the committee when necessary.

All 11 senators present voted in favor of the second option in another straw poll conducted by Bindra.

The Senate also debated whether or not to take action on an amendment passed during the spring election, which would allow the Senate to reserve seats for upperclassmen in their Bylaws. Senators considered suggesting a specific number of seats for the new Senate to add to the Bylaws or deciding on the number themselves.

“If these guys are going to come in and define [the number of reserved seats], they are going to do it early on in their term,” Fadavi said. “Given that we have a year of experience, it would be better for us to define [the number].”

In a straw poll, six senators voted to refrain from changing the Bylaws but give recommendations to the new Senate, three senators voted to add the amendment text to the Bylaws but set the reserved number of seats to zero, and two voted to establish a specific number of reserved seats in the Bylaws.

At the end of the meeting, a bill was put on previous notice to approve the 2013-2014 ASSU Operating Budget. Bindra and Senate Chair Branden Crouch ’14 presented the budget, noting that there were few changes other than adding additional money to the discretionary fund due to an increase in the endowment.

At next week’s meeting, Crouch is expected to make an announcement about Appropriations Committee Chair Nancy Pham ’14, who has been absent for the first three weeks of the quarter. According to the Bylaws, a bill for Pham’s expulsion should be presented at the Senate meeting next week.

Crouch did not comment on whether Pham would return to the Senate and said that the issue would be resolved by the next meeting.

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