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Thursday, October 28, 2021

When the student senate returned for the beginning of the Summer B term, they did so with less senators and a lot more potential. Over the past few weeks, partisanship in the Senate chamber has risen to an all-time high, culminating in the departure of former senators Grabowski and Lima.

These former senators will have you believe their time in Senate was cut short by the majority party in an attempt to weaken the minority party’s bench, but this is far from the truth. Rather, it was former senators Grabowski and Lima’s unruly, disruptive and disrespectful conduct toward fellow senators that ultimately led to their resignation by non-attendance.

Senators at UF are permitted to accumulate a predetermined number of unexcused absences per semester. In order to ensure senators are actually showing up to represent their constituents, the student senate collectively created the “resignation by non-attendance” in Student Body Statute 323.34. This procedure has been in place for generations of senators and is explained and outlined at length at orientation for all incoming senators. The procedure dictates a senator resigns their seat automatically upon the accumulation of their final unexcused absence. The seat is filled by a replacement senator who is more committed to fulfilling responsibilities to their fellow students. 

These rules were problematic for former senators Grabowski and Lima, due to their large number of unexcused absences. When they were unhappy with votes taking place in the student senate, instead of voicing their opinions and having a debate they left the chamber in protest in an attempt to break quorum so the vote could not take place at all.  

Unfortunately for former senators Grabowski and Lima, several members of their own party declined to follow them out of the chamber, and they failed to bust quorum. This allowed the Senate to proceed and vote without them, which resulted in unexcused absences for the senators who left.

This strategy put these senators in an extremely precarious position during our last senate meeting of the semester where the issue ultimately came to a head. Unlike the Senate in our state and federal government, our sergeant-at-arms does not have the power to put their hands on another student or physically remove disruptive or unruly senators from the Senate chamber. To solve this problem, the student Senate again collectively crafted another legislative fix

The “constructive absence” is issued to senators who are disruptive or fail to comply with applicable student body codes during the course of a meeting. Two warnings must be issued before a constructive absence is declared. Upon a constructive absence, the senator will no longer be recognized for the remainder of the meeting and is unable to vote. 

Both former senators Grabowski and Lima were issued two warnings each for disrupting the Senate meeting. They continued to shout openly on the floor despite not being recognized by the chair and despite their two warnings. 

In light of their continued disruption and non-compliance with student body codes, they were each declared constructively absent. The constructive absence constituted the final unexcused absence for both senators due to their already large number of unexcused absences and triggered a resignation by non-attendance for both senators. All student body codes, rules and procedures were strictly followed, and Senate President Libby Shaw even petitioned the UF Student Government Supreme Court to confirm her handling of the meeting was procedurally sound. I look forward to the court's ultimate decision and to a Senate chamber with less partisanship and disruption. 

Under former senators Grabwoski’s leadership, the Inspire Party has categorically failed to make any meaningful change, short of passing a handful of non-binding resolutions. Further, her and former Senator Lima’s presence contributed significantly to dysfunction and grid lock in the student senate. During the past year, the minority party flooded student government with public record requests, in an attempt to slow down the workings of the executive and legislative branches. There has already been a 100 percent increase in the number of public record requests filed from last year, despite the fall semester not even starting yet. Moreover, student government was forced to hire additional professional staff to handle these requests, with $70,000 coming out of your student fees to fund additional positions. The conduct of these former senators wasn’t just bad for Senate, it was costly for the student body.

Each of these facts was outlined for the now Formerly Independent Florida Alligator (due to the infamous administration bailout of our beloved student newspaper) but failed to make it into print. Students should feel confident in their representation within the student senate, and it is my hope this letter to the editor works towards that goal. With the absence of former senators Grabowksi and Lima, I am confident the student senate can turn the page and begin a new chapter of productivity and cooperation.

Branden Pearson is a UF management junior and Impact senator for Jennings.

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