Diego Diaz | Assistant News Director
Legislation restructuring the balance-of-power in the Student Government Association passed a significant step Monday, Nov. 21, laying the groundwork for potentially new governing documents by early Spring 2023.
Introduced by Senate President and co-sponsor Alexander Sutton, SP 03007, also known as the Checks and Balances Act, is a set of amendments which would recalibrate the different power allotted to the three branches of SGA, while simultaneously increasing student involvement in the governing process.
Sutton began the bill’s introduction by emphasizing its democratic introduction in comparison to the controversial administration-led process which defined the creation of the current constitution.
“About two years ago, the student governments at Biscayne Bay Campus and Modesto Maidique Campus were merged into one university-wide student government, and when that was done, other changes were made,” said Sutton.
“Power from each of the different branches were reorganized and either taken away entirely or given to other branches, and the senate wasn’t really consulted in that process, nor the student body.”
Unlike this previous process, the bill stipulates that once ratified by two-thirds of the senate, it will then be placed on the 2023 general elections ballot.
Moreover, the act would also significantly ease the requirements for amendments brought forth by students, changing the minimum from 25% of the total votes casted in the previous election, to 25% of the total number of students who voted.
“Every student casts a lot of votes every time they vote. I cast 10 votes, but I’m just one student,” said Sutton. “That’s why I think it should be the number of students that voted, not the number of votes cast, which is a much greater number.”
Yet, just as pressing are the structural changes this proposed act would codify, including significant limitations to the executive branch, while also reinvigorating the senate and judiciary.
Limitations include changes to the amount of senate votes needed to override a veto of a proposed amendment from the unanimous vote of all senate members to three-fourths of senators.
The proposed legislation would also reserve the right to overturn supreme court decisions solely to the court, stripping the executive board of its previous judicial powers.
“If the president did something very unethical, and they got removed by the supreme court, they could appeal that decision to the executive board… putting a political body over a non political, judicial body,” said Sutton.
The appointment of associate justices would also change, transferring the power to nominate from the student body president to the chief justice.
These proposed judicial branch changes garnered the greatest opposition, with senators contending that the current judicial system remains untested, bringing into question if these changes are even needed.
“I think we should definitely amend things that are tried and tested, but we’ve never tested the judicial branch so how are we going to go about amending it?” said Zachary Stangl, president pro tempore of the senate.
Stangl also questioned the constitutionality of the bill, referencing the similarities between the Checks and Balance act and the Student Bill of Rights, legislation quashed during a September 22 Student Life and Academic Concerns committee meeting.
“If you see right here, statute 3007.3, if a legislation is voted down in a committee it is considered dead and cannot be brought to the floor unless it is remanded with a two-thirds vote,” said Stangl. “So I’m afraid whether or not if we do vote on this, and we do pass it, if it’s even constitutional.”
Housing Senator Alexander Stone and Business Senator Matthew Gaynor concurred, with all three positing that it may be more appropriate to reintroduce the bill during the start of the Spring 2023 session.
Pressed for time, discussion ended after a ten minute period, with Sutton guaranteeing that discussion for the bill will take primacy in the next legislative session.
The legislative session also saw the successful codification of the Meet your Dean event, transitioning the event from a time honored tradition to a legally binding practice.
Stangl, a co-sponsor to the bill, emphasized that the codification is not meant to force the senate to increase spending for the event, but rather, to ensure its continuation beyond the current senate body.
“This should become, in essence, something that the Senate will always do because it exemplifies what we do as SGA,” said Stangl. “We represent the students interest, we represent what they need and the best way to represent is to advocate to administration.”
Also passed was the Panther with Disabilities Act, a resolution binding the senate to organize its political and economic resources for advocation towards increased campus accessibility.
The bill highlighted FIU’s shortcomings towards their disability accommodations, making special reference to this year’s $30,000 budget cut to the Disability Resource Center.
Support for the bill was nearly unanimous, with senators especially praising the language utilized by co-sponsor Kaily LeChapelle, senator for the School of International and Public Affairs.
“One of the things I want to emphasize is that this is not just for the classroom,” said Housing Senator Mia Rodriguez, a co-sponsor to the resolution. “This is for everyday functions that people need in order to be part of our campus.”