Controversial bill proposed in controversial way
A controversial bill – and the way it was proposed – livened what had been a very run-of-the-mill meeting for Student Government senate Tuesday night.
The bill, proposed by Sen. Jason Taylor, suggests a rewrite to section 902 of the SG constitution in its entirety, creating a division between SG Administrative Services (SGAS) and the business comptroller.
As the original bill currently stands, the business comptroller is a part of SGAS – a separate entity from Student Government’s three main branches – and is appointed to the position by the business manager, fiscal coordinator, SG accountant, the outgoing comptroller and, if applicable, the assistant comptroller. SGAS’s main responsibilities are to review funding requests from SG, compile audits and approve payroll transactions.
Possibly the most important revision made to the bill would not only be a splitting of the two but also reclassifying the comptroller’s duties and responsibilities to fall under the SG umbrella, renaming the position SG comptroller. This change would allow for the student body president to appoint and fire the comptroller, as well as pick assistants to the department.
This idea is being called into question by some for its lack of independence from SG, making it more susceptible to problematic decisions to be made in the future.
“They are taking away our office’s ability to be independent,” Comptroller Thomas King said. “(They are taking away) the ability to be unbiased and ensure that the student fees are spent responsibly – that we’re independent and unbiased.”
Author of the bill and former senate President Pro-Tempore Devin Lee doesn’t agree with King’s view and said he feels that power has already been abused by SGAS, and moving toward this change would keep operations in better check.
“Ultimately, it’s just a series of technical problems with SGAS over a long period of time,” Lee said. “A lot of times, the senate budget committee will pass a bill to fund something, but when it goes to the business office, they will often exercise power they don’t have and say no to the transaction. I’ve had logistical problems with SGAS for a long time … it’s kind of a long time coming for me. It’s a bill I would never have written on my own.”
Lee said after he heard that others in SG were in support of this bill he began to work with David Brickhouse, the Department of Governmental Relations and Legislative Advocacy’s director of internal affairs, to put it in writing. Since beginning writing the bill, 14 senators have stepped forward to co-sponsor the bill, including senate President Barclay Harless.
Harless was unable to make it to Tuesday night’s meeting so by protocol, senate President Pro-Tempore Nathan Davison took his place. Davison said he was surprised that a bill of that nature came so late in the evening, and was even more shocked by the way it was presented to the floor.
Rules of Procedure (ROP) state that the last item on the agenda of any senate meeting is Legislative Announcements, a time when senators may speak on any topic they choose, although without a suspension of ROP senators may not add another bill to the agenda for consideration. It was during this time Taylor spoke about Bill 101.
After the motion was passed to suspend ROP, roughly 10 senators took the floor to back the bill, whereas generally only one or two would. After reading the bill to senate, Taylor then requested to suspend ROP again to move the bill to second reading – only a bill on second reading or above may be voted on. The request to suspend ROP was denied by Davison, and the bill was tabled until next week’s meeting.
“My concerns are not with the bill itself,” Davison said. “I have an idea of what the bill does, but my opinion is of what happened tonight. I was more concerned not about what was said but I was concerned about the aggressive tactic that was implemented to get this bill to pass tonight. Their intentions were genuine and they recognized a problem and thought this was a good way to fix it – they felt that this is going to be the way and they got really excited about it. I think they are doing it with students best interests in mind – I just think they may be doing it a little too hastily.”