This Fall, Gator Party won 45 out of the 50 contested Senate seats. This gave Gator Party a supermajority in the Senate chamber, holding over 75 of the 100 total Senate seats. Upon establishing this staggering dominance over the chamber, Gator Party and its senators have the near unilateral authority to do whatever they legislatively want. And what did they do?
In the Senate, Gator Party’s first action was not to add more rent relief, it was not to fix our broken 800 codes which have resulted in countless organizations losing funding and it was not to expand access to technology for students that are struggling with virtual school. Instead, Gator Party’s first action was to force through a comprehensive alteration of the UF Student Senate’s Rules and Procedures, reducing the power of minority senators, silencing students and restricting students ability to influence their government.
There are three main issues with this abhorrent legislation. The first and most egregious is the barring of students from creating and sponsoring legislation. As the bill being heard on Tuesday is structured, it provides students two avenues when they wish to actively participate in the legislative process: Allow their elected officials to plagiarize their thoughts, writing and ideas or not engage at all. Previously, students and senators alike could write and sponsor legislation. This allowed students to contribute to their government and express their support for legislation. It appears that the Senate now finds hearing students’ opinions too inconvenient and pesky, rather, they would like to exclude them from exercising their free speech altogether. The Senate, has decided to scorn the very people that elected them into office.
The next alteration that Gator Party is seeking to make is a restriction of public comment that restricts students’ freedom of speech. In the past, any student could sign up to speak in public comment all the way up until the Senate meeting is called to order. In an obvious attempt to prevent students from being able to speak at Senate meetings, this legislation forces students to sign up to speak the day before. But the agenda for the Senate meeting is released to senators mere hours before the new deadline. With such a short time to receive and review the agenda, this legislation effectively prevents students from having the ability to address their representatives. Students have a constitutional right to address their student government. Students also have a constitutional right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression that cannot be restricted by their government. This legislation limits both of those freedoms.
The last alteration is a change to our governing documents. In the past, we have closely followed a set of rules that is adopted worldwide, and even is consulted by the U.S. Senate and House. These rules are called Robert’s Rules of Order. They are carefully designed and written to protect the rights of those serving in the majority. Just as we would be appalled if the majority party began to systematically remove minority senators from the chamber, we would be appalled if the majority party prevented minority senators from speaking in the chamber. That is what Robert’s Rules of Order prevents. This legislation makes Robert’s Rules of Order secondary to the rulings of the Senate president, an inherently partisan position. The Senate president, Cooper Brown, is not an authority on parliamentary procedure, is strongly affiliated with the Gator Party and this alteration eliminates any internal mechanism limiting the Senate President from completely silencing the minority party. Any safeguards meant to protect dissenting voices will be staunched out, and thus, so will be the student Senate as it has existed since its creation.
These actions demonstrate that Gator Party cares not about the students, but about consolidating power, padding their resumes and ultimately reducing student Senate to a 30-minute affair that they can quickly complete on Tuesday nights while gaining the fruits of this experience and championing themselves as advocates for students. Being an advocate involves debate, dissent and discussion, all of which Gator Party is actively destroying with the promotion of this Rules and Procedures Amendment.
Brianne Seaberg serves as the Senate minority party leader and is an Inspire Party senator.