Bill 50, an amendment to the USF constitution, was brought to the senate floor Tuesday night after much debate. The bill, if passed, would cap the number of seats in the senate at 50. It would also modify how seats are apportioned in the senate. The number of senators from each college would directly reflect the percentage of USF students in the college. Colleges with less than two percent of the student population would have one senate seat.
The Rules Committee, which decides what bills will be heard on the senate floor, originally voted 6-5 to not allow the bill to be heard by the senate. Senator Frank Harrison, who co-authored the bill with Senate President Stavros Papandreou, motioned to bypass the Rules Committee’s decision and have the bill debated on the Senate floor. A 2/3 vote is required for a bill to circumvent the Rules Committee. After over a half an hour of intense discussion over whether the bill should be debated later, the motion to ignore the Rules Committee’s decision was passed with a 67% vote.
Later that night, the Rules Committee Chair Kevin Hettinger resigned from the senate, in part due to the heated debate and the bypassing of the Rules Committee.
The senators then debated the bill until about midnight Tuesday.
There are 70 seats in the senate, 62 of them filled. Each college gets one senate seat for every 500 students.
“We have between 40 and 50 senators showing up at any given (meeting),” Papandreou said.
If passed, the bill would make it harder for students to become senators.
“If it is more competitive, people are going to have to go out and campaign,” Papandreou said. “If you have more people voting for you, you’re going to be accountable to more people.”
Hampton Dohrman, senate president pro tempore, said he thinks campaigning would be beneficial to student government as a whole.
“People are going to see people campaigning, they’re going to know what’s going on,” Dohrman said. “With campaigning … there are people talking about student government.”
Some senators, such as Jeremiah Pederson, have reservations over the importance the bill places on campaigning.
“There’s a potential for individuals who aren’t part of large organizations having trouble getting in,” Pederson said.
He said students interested in joining the senate would have a severe disadvantage against someone in a large group, like a fraternity or club, who would not actually have to campaign to get votes.
Senator Thomas King echoed Pederson’s concerns.
He said this could possibly put the power of the senate in the hands of special interest groups.
Senator Chris Jackson also voiced concern about this issue.
“One particular group or organization might have a handful of senators representing just them,” Jackson said.
As it stands with interim elections at the beginning of each month to fill empty seats, it is extremely easy for any student to become a senator.
“We’ve had people with one vote get in and never show up to a meeting,” Dohrman said.
Jackson thinks an interviewing process could curtail the issue of senators joining and not participating.
Currently the senate deals with inactive senators by assigning them points for unexcused absences. those who reach five points are kicked out of the senate and unable to reapply for one calendar year.
“We’ve had nine senators ‘pointed out’ this semester,” Dohrman said.
For Papandreou it comes down to having senators willing to do a good job.
“I don’t care about quantity, I want quality,” Papandreou said.
Many senators are still undecided on the bill and some aspects of it.
“I do believe in limiting the number of senators,” Pederson said. “I just think at this point that 50 might be a bit too low.”
There are still two weeks left to debate the bill and poll the constituents before the final vote on the bill.
At the bill’s current pace, it should be ready for a referendum vote by December along with the interim senator elections. If it reaches a referendum, the bill would need a majority vote to become part of the constitution. If passed, it would become effective immediately and would be in effect for the main elections in spring.