USF Senate to start enforcing SG statutes on recording meetings

While restrictions on recording during Senate meetings are starting to be enforced, Senate President Amani Taha plans to start making video recordings of the meetings public to all students. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Student Government (SG) Senate meetings’ accessibility to students became an issue at last week’s meeting. 

Namely, senators were interested in live streaming the meeting to Facebook so non-SG students could more easily find out what happens in the Senate. When other senators expressed concern with it, Senate president Amani Taha offered to do the recording herself.

“It is a cool idea and I think that students would like it because everyone’s always on Facebook and watching videos so I’d like to do that,” Taha said. “Just in the moment, if senators were uncomfortable, I really wanted to make some kind of compromise.”

Taha said the plan is to be able to live stream the meetings on Facebook, but said the video may later need to be posted on YouTube or another platform.

“I totally get the sentiment that people want to record the Senate meetings,” Taha said. “I promise that by the next Senate meeting I will get it working.”

Based on Sunshine State Laws, open meetings are allowed to be recorded by those in the room. According to Student Government Advising, Training and Operations Director Gary Manka, SG is exempt from this law.

“SG may restrict public recordings as student government is not an agency as defined by the open meeting law,” a memo issued by Manka stated.

When asked, Manka said he could not define whether SG is an agency of the university or not. Previously, USF General Councel has said SG isn’t while the First Amendment Foundation has said the organization is subject to open meeting laws.

According to Manka, based on current SG laws only the Senate president can record and in order to take any other recordings the Senate would need to give its permission. 

“Student Government can make their own laws about what is appropriate and what isn’t appropriate within their student government because other parts of state law give student government the right to make their own internal guiding documents,” Manka.

The SG Senate has live-streamed meetings in the past along with producing audio recordings, summary minutes and verbatim minutes.  Lately these recordings haven’t been available to students outside of SG.

Toward the end of last week, Manka sent out a memo to the Senate reiterating that senators aren’t allowed to record the meetings themselves and explained the ramifications of recording.

“Any student who attempts or turns on a recorder at a meeting will re referred to (Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities) and may be removed from their position as a student government officer,” the memo said. “In addition, any student or person may be removed from the meeting with possible legal sanctions including permanent restriction from the university property.”

In previous years, the statute hasn’t been enforced by SG officers. Manka said this is because it wasn’t really an issue in the past, but has become a potential issue because the Senate now primarily keeps audio minutes.

“They’re actually working on clarifying who can record and what methods of recording there are in the statutes. People are writing bills right now,” Taha said.