The second floor of the Phyllis P. Marshall Center, where the Student Government offices are housed, has been abuzz this week with the executive and legislative branches at odds over recent legislation. The bill creates a new permanent senate committee that, according to the executive branch, overlaps the job of the executive branch and oversteps the constitutional bounds of the senate’s responsibilities.
The executive branch made the last move in the weeklong back-and-forth by issuing an executive order, a very unusual and uncommon play. The senate is expected to respond to the order at its meeting tonight.
Bill 53 was passed with a vote of 26 for, 9 against and 1 abstention Oct. 25 at the end of a marathon meeting of the SG senate. Sen. James Culp sponsored the bill.
It officially adds the Special Projects Committee to the senate rules of procedure (ROP). The committee would be responsible for reviewing all ideas for special projects that senators come up with and deciding whether they should be heard on the senate floor.
“The original intention of (Bill 53) was to provide senators with guidance and advising to see through initiatives they wanted to begin,” senate President Frank Harrison said.
If the senate approves the idea, the proposing senator would then become the project coordinator. Coordinators will be paid, unlike normal senators. The committee will decide how many hours to compensate the coordinator for – 10, 20, or over 30 – with a budget cap of 500 hours per semester. If coordinators are paid minimum wage, the resulting impact would be a maximum of just more than $1,500 a semester for payroll.
The materials for the projects would be funded through the Interim Funding and Transfers committee, according to Amal Patel, the chair of that committee.
This would eliminate all official outside influence from the process of carrying out projects.
“The senate can interim fund itself for projects without oversight,” student body Vice President Sameer Ahmed said outside of the Oct. 25 senate meeting.
The executive branch also expressed concern over what it feels is the senate expanding its own powers.
“In the long term, this is something that could allow senate to become a stronger entity than it already is – but not just that – but also allow the senate to step out of its boundaries as far as responsibilities and what it is there for,” student body President Maxon Victor said.
One amendment added to the bill on the floor limits the projects to communication initiatives, which according to Culp makes the bill constitutionally acceptable.
“Projects are going on now, regardless of this bill,” Culp said just after the bill was passed. “They’re all about communication, which is what we now limited the committee to, which under the constitution is our jurisdiction.”
After the senate passed the bill, Victor was informed that because it only affects the ROP and not SG statutes or the SG constitution, he was actually not able to veto it.
The next probable step would be to ask the SG court to determine the constitutionality of the bill, but neither side wants to see the court involved in the resolution of the issue.
“While the court may eventually have a role in this matter, I’d like to see us resolve it before it reaches that point,” Harrison said.
Victor chose to try something else before the court: an executive order. He issued the paragraph-long edict Friday afternoon.
“Basically, the executive order is saying, ‘Do what you’re here to do,'” Victor said. “I wouldn’t expect the court to start working on ‘projects,’ because that’s not what the court is here for.”
According to Victor, “projects” are not one of the senate’s responsibilities.
“The senate is designed to deal with legislation, approval of budgets, hold other branches accountable, and be representatives for the student body,” Victor said.
It is now the senate’s turn to respond to the order.
According to Jeremiah Pederson, senate president pro tempore, the senate will be considering a bill tonight which he wrote that should clarify the vaguer parts of bill 53 and alleviate the executive branch’s concerns.
Both sides of this issue hope that it will be a learning experience.
“When this is all over, I really want us to basically create a better line of communication and a better system of accountability,” Victor said.
“This is essentially an opportunity for both branches to learn how to function more effectively together,” Harrison said.