This article has been updated to reflect that UF Student Government did not violate its own codes by holding virtual committee meetings and will not break them by holding virtual meetings as long as a federal state of emergency is declared. The article has also been updated to reflect that in order to meet quorum, 51 senators must be present. The Alligator previously reported otherwise.
The first Senate meeting of the Summer was adjourned within nine minutes after its start, as the minimum number senators required to conduct the meeting wasn’t met.
Senate’s codes state that a minimum of 51 senators must be present to meet quorum and constitutionally conduct a meeting; however, only 49 senators attended the meeting this Tuesday.
The meeting took place after the yearlong COVID-19 pandemic state of emergency was lifted by Gov. Ron DeSantis May 3, leaving questions about the constituency of Senate’s Rules and Procedures stating meetings could only be held virtually in the case of a state of emergency.
The codes specify all SG meetings must be held in person except for “the event of a federal, state, or local state of emergency as determined by the University of Florida administration impacting the Student Senate’s ability to meet in-person.”
Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden extended a federal state of emergency following the pandemic to beyond March 1, it’s original expiration date.
The continuation of a federal state of emergency allows Senate to continue to meet online without breaking its codes.
However, it is still unclear how Senate would proceed to an eventual transition to in person meetings in the case state of emergency is federally lifted.
According to Reitz Union’s list of COVID-19 Safety Measures, the amount of seating in public places has decreased to coincide with the state’s COVID-19 precautions.
The university updated its Campus Events and Gathering Policy early April, establishing a maximum in-door capacity of 50 people through Summer A.
Following these guidelines, any SG meeting held in person would break university policy — forcing SG to choose between violating its own codes or the university’s.
For some students who have had a hard time getting a hold of Senate in the past, attending meetings in person has been more beneficial in getting their voices heard.
Evan Smith, who spoke during public comment throughout Spring advocating for renewable energy on campus, said he prefers the dynamics of in-person Senate meetings.
“People can get the attention of Senators, their undivided attention especially in person,” said Smith, UF’s Florida Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) Chapter President. “It's much easier to ignore someone's speaking at public comments when they're on a screen, you know you could be on your phone, you can mute them and you don't have to pay attention.”
However, other students rely on the remote environment to participate in Senate while still keeping themselves and their loved ones safe.
Students with health complications or concerns about the pandemic would be unable to express their concerns and needs to Senate without putting themselves at risk by entering the Reitz’s chamber, which would need to be filled by at least 51 Senators.
Spring Senator Zachary Utt (Murphree, Inspire) was among those who advocated against the amendments. He believes all students should have equal access to participating in public comment.
“It's just restricting access to the Senate,” Utt said. “Saying that in Senate Student Government, you must live here, and you must be okay with congregating in large groups.”
Contact Grace Stoler at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @GraceStoler.