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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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Non-UF Student Government students will no longer be allowed to sponsor or write legislation for UF Student Government.

Senate passed sweeping amendments to its rules and procedures Tuesday night via a Gator Party-sponsored bill. 

Non-SG affiliated students can no longer write or sponsor legislation. Students must register to speak during public comment 19 hours before a Senate meeting, whereas they used to be able to until Senate began at 7 p.m. Senate can now only meet virtually during a state of emergency, as decided by a separate amendment.

The amendment also established a religious calendar for Senate meetings, which was one of the few points not contested during public comment.

Five Gator Party senators co-authored the Senate bill. Gator Party has a supermajority of 75 out of 100 senators. None of the authors answered questions about the legislation over email.

The legislation was strongly opposed by the minority parties, Inspire and Change, and students who wrote and sponsored past legislation. Two students and 11 senators voiced their concerns for the legislation for nearly an hour during public comment.

The opposition wasn’t enough to stop the Gator-dominated Senate from passing the bill without debate with a 52-13 vote.

Appointed Senator Thomas Driscoll (Graduate) spoke in favor of the religious holiday calendar during public comment.

“I’m really excited to pass this bill tonight. I’m really happy that change and protection is in there,” he said. “I can now observe my High Holy Days without being penalized by Senate.”

Minority Party Leader Brianne Seaberg opposed the bill. She saw most amendments as a “power grab” intended to suppress minority opinion and shorten Senate meetings after Gator Party’s domination of the Fall 2020 SG election.

“Responsible government is government that takes time,” Seaberg said. “I think it takes debate. I think it takes discussion.”

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A separate amendment will stop Senate from meeting online except in the case of state, national or local emergency. Florida is in a state of emergency until Jan. 2 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate has met online since March 17 after UF canceled on-campus classes and events for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inspire Senator Zachery Utt (Murphree Area) spoke against the virtual meeting amendment.

“If the Senate meets in person during the pandemic, that discriminates against disabled students," he said. "They cannot speak in public comment."

Utt threatened to bring the amendment to court if an online option isn’t provided for Senate meetings.

Another amendment required anyone wishing to speak during public comment to register the day before Senate meetings by 11:59 p.m. by emailing the Senate president. Public comment is a time at the beginning of every Senate meeting where students can talk.

Before, people could register for public comment by email until Senate began at 7 p.m.

Inspire Senator Emma Sanchez (Liberal Arts and Sciences) took issue with this change. She said Senate usually releases its agenda at 5 p.m. the day before, giving students seven hours to register for public comment. 

"The message you’re sending with the change is that you don't care what students have to say," she said. "You're erasing history by not keeping students' names in there."

Inspire Senator Monica Lea (Graduate) opposed the amendment barring students from writing or sponsoring legislation.

"I'm still waiting for an author for this legislation to explain how barring students from writing or sponsoring legislation is at all beneficial to students," she said.

The amendment diminished the importance of Robert’s Rules of Order in Senate, which govern how committee and legislative meetings are run, determining when people can speak and how things are voted on. 

The rules, which are used nationally, ensure that every member's voice can be heard and provide consistent structure to meetings. The amendment made Senate president's rules more important than Robert’s. 

Former Inspire Senator Shawn Zimmer is against the change. While he trusts Senate President Cooper Brown, he is worried what it will mean for future leaders. 

“It's going to break Senate in a lot of the ways the writers of this bill may not have perceived,” he said. 

Majority Party Leader Blake Robinson, Judiciary Committee chair Franco Luis, Rules and Ethics Committee chair Annabelle Groux, Budget and Appropriations chair Sydney White and Information and Communication chair David Kays wrote the bill.

Majority Party Leader Blake Robinson facilitated skipping debate, but none of the writers spoke about the bill.

Luis, three different committee chairs and a different majority party leader failed to pass a nearly identical bill in the Summer. Only three changes have been made from the Summer bill to this bill.

In summer, Gator only had a majority of 68 and the bill faced opposition from within Gator party. 

Inspire senators fought against the bill by submitting seven amendments to the bill. All of them failed to pass without debate.

Adreanne Martinez, a 22-year-old UF history and political science alumna, had her first experience with SG writing and passing a resolution urging UF to research its ties to slavery and Native American exploitation with four other non-SG students.

Along with writing the bill, Martinez emailed about 120 UF senators, professors and student organizations to get sponsors for the bills.

“It was pretty intimidating. I'd never written legislation before, neither had the four others,” Martinez said. “It was definitely something worth fighting for. You’ve got to take risks to make worthwhile changes.”

She feels uneasy about future students losing the opportunity to do what she did.

Martinez said she would have felt too intimidated to approach a senator and ask them to write the resolution for her. She said that senators might not have the research experience and the resolution might not have passed.

“The legislative branch is supposed to be the closest arm to the people,” Martinez said. “Barring students from speaking about this and writing legislation cuts off the arm a little bit.”

Correction: This article has been updated the reflect that Zachery Utt is an Inspire Senator and the correct spelling for Monica Lea. 

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Lianna Hubbard

Lianna Hubbard is a reporter for The Alligator’s Investigative Team. The UF women’s study major began as a freelance reporter three years ago. She founded her community college’s award-winning newspaper before beginning at The Independent Florida Alligator. See an issue in your community or a story at UF? Send tips to her Twitter.

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