Student Government (SG) Senate overwhelmingly overrode the student body president Jean Cocco’s veto Tuesday on whether the Judiciary and Ethics Committee (JEC) may issue a notification of non-compliance.
A notification of non-compliance is issued when an SG member is found to be in violation of state or SG statutes by the JEC. The individual then has five business days to comply or face repercussions from SG Senate, such as suspension of funding or removal from office.
The veto comes on the heels of Cocco’s censure, which resulted from a notice of non-compliance for his refusal to step down from the Local Fee Committee.
Before the SG Senate passed the bill earlier this month, only the SG president, chief financial officer, attorney general, senate president and Senate Executive Committee could file notices.
In the memorandum that vetoed JEC directly filing a notification, Cocco stated the JEC should investigate grievances and then report to the SG Senate to provide a “balanced approach.”
Senator Samuel Shiflett echoed this sentiment at Tuesday’s senate meeting. He said the power could allow a handful of senators the power of “judge, jury and executioner.”
“The investigation should be in one place,” he said. “The decision should lie in another.”
Senator Kristen Truong, chairwoman of JEC, said her committee takes the grievance process seriously and wouldn’t arbitrarily file notices against anyone.
“There’s no one who is more knowledgeable than the actual committee,” she said. “We spend hours going through statutes and the constitution.”
SG Senator Corey Ulloa said waiting to get an opinion from authorized parties needlessly prolonged the grievance process.
“JEC is saying you did this wrong and fix it,” he said. “If they didn’t do anything wrong or it’s fixed, there’s no punishment for it. They’re not deciding anything.”
While a notification of non-compliance is a warning without any immediate punishment, Shiflett said Cocco’s censure was proof that non-compliance notices can carry some weight.
SG Senator Brandon Hartmann said allowing the JEC to file helps equalize the playing field, as currently there are more members from the executive branch able to file a notification than from the legislative.
“The underlying issue is that (the legislative) is trying to increase our power over the executive,” he said. “The executive branch may seem a little threatened because it feels a little anti-executive.”
Hartmann further said SG should mirror the U.S. government, which prides itself on a system of checks and balances between the branches of government.
In the veto memorandum, Cocco stated those traditionally able to file a notification are SG members with the experience and qualifications to have such a power.
“If you’re a new senator and you don’t get the training or experience, then you’re not qualified,” Cocco said in an interview with The Oracle.
SG Senate President Pro Tempore Abdool Aziz said Cocco’s reasoning behind the veto wasn’t a legal concern that violates statues, but a personal issue.
“It’s essentially saying that senators are stupid, that you don’t have the competency to be in a committee and make a judgment decision in JEC,” he said.
In an interview with The Oracle, Cocco said he wanted to express that he felt many senators are qualified, but some don’t always have the proper training.
SG Senator Chris Johnson said it should be put in perspective that most senators have less than two years of experience.
“I would hesitate to say that an extra year of experience in the Senate makes you somehow more qualified to say whether someone is or is not following the rules,” he said.
The vote to override the veto was 42-2-1 and the JEC has the power to issue a notification of non-compliance effective immediately.