Constitution grants senate more powerBy Will Tucker | 01/27/2011 10:28pm
The senate would get more power over the other branches of the Student Government Association under the new constitution, and will need to use that power quickly to answer a few big questions left from the constitutional overhaul, like how appointments are made to senate committees.
Committee assignments can directly affect the flow of funding from SGA—for example, five senators from the Senate Committee on Finance are required by the proposed constitution to sit on the Financial Affairs Committee that awards University money to student groups.
With the creation of the speaker of the Senate position, the new constitution leaves unanswered the questions of how senators are appointed to committees and who appoints them.
“Right now, the new constitution does not delineate a set process for appointing senators,” Senator David Simpson said. “However, it does give full authority of appointing senators [to Senate committees] to the legislative branch.”
Simpson, who served on the Constitutional Review Committee headed by SGA Attorney General Ryan Sprinkle since the beginning of the current SGA term, said that the senate now has several more checks and balances over the SGA executive branch.
“In the past, the executive branch had a role in appointing senators to senate committees,” Simpson said. “Not anymore. That now falls under the Senate’s authority, so the Senate will have to decide how it’s done.”
Simpson said the senate should prioritize deciding on a process for these appointments, and should pass these decisions in a bill to change the Code of Law.
Ian Sams, SGA communications director, said that while the process for appointments isn’t set now, it will prove to be a relatively easy problem to fix.
“The basic understanding is that the speaker of the senate will make appointments,” Sams said, speaking of the new Senate office created for the first time under the proposed constitution. “It just hasn’t been codified yet.”
Sams’ original idea, that senators should choose their own committees according to their vote totals, was ultimately omitted from the proposed constitution.
“One would assume that the speaker of the senate, as the elected leader of the legislative branch, would compose committees of senators at his or her choosing,” Sprinkle said. “I would hope that the speaker would take senators' interests and legislative desires into account when placing them on certain committees.”
The new speaker of the senate office is one of the biggest differences between the current constitution and the proposed one. The office will provide more autonomy for the SGA Senate.
“The speaker of the senate is a senator, elected from amongst the senators, and he or she will be the head of the legislative branch,” Simpson said. “He’ll operate like the Speaker of the House in the U.S. government, in the sense that they’ll form a legislative calendar.”
The legislative calendar, Simpson said, would be a list of policy goals the senate should try to achieve during the term.
In addition to the powers of the speaker of the senate, the senate will also have acts of senate to check the power of the executive branch.
“Acts of senate are going to be a new way to increase checks and balances between the two branches. In the past, everything that did not change the Code of Laws was considered a resolution,” he said.
“Resolutions will only be for expressing the senate’s feelings about something,” Simpson said.
According to Sams, the acts would tell the executive branch to do something.
“The senate can pass an act, and the executive branch would then have to carry it out,” he said.
“The Senate has the perception, and often the reality, of not serving a legitimate purpose,” Sprinkle said. “The Senate has become ‘a rubber-stamping facility,’ where Senators ‘sign off’ on SGA programs, projects and initiatives only days before the program, project or initiative is set to begin.”
“Acts of senate will correct this problem and empower the senate to be engaged from day one,” he said.