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Senators vote to amend Constitution

Kaitlynn Riely | Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Student Senate passed an amendment to the Student Body Constitution Wednesday that formally requires the president to share certain information with representatives, but failed to pass a second constitutional amendment as senators debated the role of the vote to abstain.

The Senate unanimously passed a resolution describing the role of the student body president in his or her interactions with the Community/Campus Advisory Coalition (CCAC). The CCAC was created by the South Bend Common Council to bring together city, resident, student and college representatives from South Bend.

The CCAC’s goal is to help the Council identify neighborhood concerns related to the local colleges, to propose solutions, and to develop long-term strategies regarding community relations. It was created as a final amendment to the party permit ordinance passed by the Common Council on Sept. 24.

Siegfried senator Jim Lockwood proposed an amendment Nov. 7 that spelled out the responsibilities of the student body president regarding his or her interactions with the CCAC. The original version of the amendment called for the student body president to attend all CCAC meetings and compelled the president to give “any and all documentation” from the meetings to the Senate at the next regular meeting.

During discussions of Lockwood’s proposed amendment at the Nov. 7 meeting, several senators, as well as student body president Liz Brown, voiced opposition to the wording of the amendment, which they said was too stringent.

The amendment was sent to the Senate Oversight committee for revisions. The resolution was on the agenda Nov. 21, but the Senate failed to reach quorum and could not discuss the new version of the amendment until Wednesday.

Lockwood was not present at the Senate meeting, but Senate Oversight chair Ian Secviar presented the revised resolution.

He read aloud a statement in support of the resolution from Brown, who was not present at the meeting. In her message, Brown said she believed the revised amendment “strikes a balance” between giving the president flexibility and acknowledging his or her responsibility to keep the Senate and the student body informed.

“I encourage you to vote in favor of the amendment as we continue to explore ways to improve community relations in the years to come,” Brown said in the statement.

Secviar thanked senators for providing feedback and called Wednesday’s version “a much better amendment.”

The approved amendment states that the student body president – or a “qualified designee” – will attend all CCAC meetings, then brief the Student Senate at its next regular meeting.

The amendment was passed without further discussion among the senators. The second resolution, which Secviar also presented, was more divisive.

The resolution addressed the abstain vote, which is a vote senators may make instead of yay or nay when the Student Senate considers a resolution. Secviar’s amendment states that, except when noted otherwise in the Constitution and its bylaws, “all votes taken in the Senate shall be taken from those senators casting a vote, provided there is a quorum, and not necessarily from the entire voting membership of the Senate or the voting membership present at a given meeting.”

With the way voting currently takes place in the Senate, Secviar said, a vote to abstain negatively affects the outcome of the voting. He gave a scenario to illustrate the intended effect of the resolution.

“If we have all 28 senators present, and we have 12 members voting in favor, 6 members voting against and 10 members abstaining, [the bill] would need 2/3, and that bill would fail,” he said.

The amendment would change the meaning of the abstain vote, so senators who voted to abstain would excuse themselves from the vote, and the bill would pass 12 to 6.

Senate Academic Affairs chair Carol Hendrickson asked what would happen in a situation where 20 people abstained, seven voted yay and one voted nay.

The bill would pass in that situation, Secviar said.

Chief executive assistant Sheena Plamoottil said she was concerned about the possible effect of the amendment.

“The reason we have, in my opinion, the abstention, is so that you really have to get the majority of the senators,” she said. “You don’t want seven people to have the ability to change the constitution, something that is supposed to be fairly rigid.”

Secviar clarified that the proposed amendment would not affect constitutional amendments, which always require two-thirds of all senators present at the meeting.

Zahm senator Nick McCollum voiced support for the proposed amendment.

“Right now, abstention and voting against have the same effect,” he said. “There’s no difference.”

But Pangborn senator Denise Baron said she opposed the amendment, saying voting down the amendment with nays sends the message that the subject is closed, but voting it down through abstentions can mean senators feel there is more work to be done on the resolution before it can be passed.

McCollum said the amendment corrects the system already in place to pass resolutions.

“It creates a definite purpose to each option, and I see no reason to vote against this,” he said.

The resolution failed to meet the two-thirds majority required for it to pass, with 16 senators voting for it, 7 against and 2 abstaining.

In other Senate news:

u Residence Life chair Mariana Montes said Notre Dame Security/Police has approved three new locations for emergency call stations: in the D6 parking lot, behind Lewis Hall and next to McKenna Hall.

u University Affairs chair Callie Pogge said her committee is considering launching an environmental campaign next semester.