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Tuesday, March 05, 2024

Three Inspire senators lost their Senate seats due to resignation by non-attendance in the past month, and those decisions were upheld on July 17 by the Rules and Ethics Committee.

The committee denied the appeals because it felt the reasons the senators gave for being absent were not valid.

It started when former senators Ashley Grabowski and Ben Lima lost their seats when they were declared constructively absent by Senate President Libby Shaw. “Constructively absent” is not defined in SG governing documents.

Most recently, Jonathan Gant (Inspire, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) said he lost his seat because a family emergency prevented him from attending a Senate meeting. This put him over the limit of two unexcused absences per summer semester.

Gant received an absence when he was unable to attend a special meeting on May 24, which was announced May 23, because he had to drive to Orlando to take care of his family dog. His dog has anxiety and takes medication for it. Gant said he didn’t feel comfortable leaving her home alone, so he drove home to stay with her.

Gant said he attempted to appeal his resignation by non-attendance before the Rules and Ethics Committee, but his reason for absence was not accepted.

At Tuesday night’s Senate meeting, several people spoke before the Senate in support of Gant. Inspire Party members attempted to have Gant’s name removed from the list of failed absence appeals the Senate was voting to approve.

A majority of the senators present voted to uphold the committee’s original decision.

On Wednesday afternoon, former senators Grabowski and Lima had their appeal for their resignation by non-attendance before the committee.

The two had about 26-hours notice to prepare for the hearing. They put together an 11-page packet citing SG governing documents and a transcript from one of the Senate meetings they hoped would prove their removal from a previous Senate meeting illegitimate.

The six members of the committee who were present — Abby Morris, Gabi Zlatanoff, Nandini Goel, Walker Bean, Annika Katare and Sean Heera — sat at one end of the conference table, while Grabowski and Lima sat at the other.

The Alligator reached out to members of the committee and Senate Majority Leader Branden Pearson, but none could be reached for comment.

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Three members of the public and two senators attended to support for the former senators.

Members of the public were not allowed to speak at any point during the proceedings.

Once it was time for their appeals, Grabowski and Lima were allowed one minute to present their arguments, three minutes of question and answer from the committee and one minute of final privilege for closing remarks.

“It was simply not enough time to present our case,” Lima said. “It’s a very important and very consequential hearing when you're talking about the removal of an elected official, someone who was voted on by hundreds of students.”

Lima won his seat with 417 votes in Fall 2018, and Grabowksi won her seat with 168 votes in Spring 2019.

During their appeals, Grabowski and Lima argued Shaw declaring them constructively absent and ignoring their votes for the remainder of the meeting was a form of suspending them.

Per the 300 codes, senators have a right to present their case to the Student Body president and the Dean of Students before being actively suspended. This procedure was not followed during the meeting.

Following the hearings, the committee spent about 3.5 minutes deliberating Grabowski and about two minutes deliberating Lima before making its final decision.

The committee concluded it was up to the discretion of the Senate president to remove the two senators for being disruptive, even though SG governing documents state only the Sergeant-at-Arms can remove a Senator once they have been given two warnings.

The committee also stated Grabowski and Lima had a history of being disruptive, which sometimes prevented the Senate from passing legislation.

“Their disruptive nature prevents us from actually doing our jobs,” Zlatanoff said during the hearing. “I think, because of that, Senate President Libby Shaw was well within her authority to issue those warnings, and because of those warnings, they were removed.”

Since Spring semester, Lima has passed two legislation items and has authored or sponsored six more items, including legislation regarding the installation of more emergency blue light phones around fraternity drive and the publicization of Senate meetings.

Grabowski has passed six legislation items and has sponsored or authored eight more items, including legislation regarding increased transparency at committee meetings and a resolution memorializing the three year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.

During deliberation, Grabowski and Lima weren’t allowed to speak or defend themselves from the committee’s criticism about their productivity in the Senate Chamber.

Both of their appeals were unanimously rejected by the committee.

Grabowski said she and Lima intend to continue pursuing the appeals process. They have been in contact with the university ombudsman and also plan to appeal their case in the SG Supreme Court and through the Dean of Students office.

“If [the SG Supreme Court] doesn’t work, if the Dean of Students office doesn't work and if the ombudsman doesn’t work, we will handle it,” Grabowski said. “Of course we would prefer to make sure that things are handled in an easier way. Honestly, I just want to get back to working on things.”

Editors’ note: the story has been updated from the print edition to show that Gant’s family absence was not his first absence.

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