At a special senate of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG), senators amended and approved an addition to the bylaws to govern the procedures of impeachment trials of members.
A second piece of legislation was presented by Bennett Cognato, elections oversight committee chairman and Daily Campus contributor, outlining the regulations and rights regarding any kind of hearing brought forward by USG, but that was tabled until after Spring Break because senators felt they did not have enough time to read the legislation before it was presented.
The legislation was originally presented by deputy speaker George Wang at the regular meeting on March 2. Senators voted to table it because it was believed by many that they were not given adequate time to read over the legislation and propose changes before voting on it.
Amendments included a change to a section that governed the banning of members from holding office again based on the Senate’s decision.
Some senators were in favor of a two-thirds vote to ban those found guilty, while others said it was not within the Senate’s power to determine who should run for office.
“We should not as a student body decide if anyone should ever run again,” said Haddiyyah Ali, commuter senator and Daily Campus contributer.
Cognato said the practice was not standard across other student bodies or even in the U.S. Senate, though that was where Wang drew inspiration for this particular section of the legislation.
Daniel Byrd, external affairs committee chairman and president-elect, said the Senate should have the option to ban senators from re-election if the accused did something that would be considered enough grounds for their removal, not to say that they would.
The bylaws now state that voting on sentencing occurs during deliberations, without a motion by a senator. Judgment of conviction automatically results in removal from office, then a vote goes to the Senate to bar the guilty party from future office for one year. If that motion is passed, another motion to bar for an additional year is presented and continues until the motion fails. If the accused is barred for three consecutive years, a motion is presented to bar them permanently from USG office. The vote is sustained by a two-thirds majority.
Another amendment was proposed about who will represent the accused and USG in the proceedings. Officially, the bylaws state that the case is USG versus the accused, though the argument was brought up that the person bringing the accusation should testify for themselves.
An amendment to change the current wording, that a member of USG selected by the executive committee will stand as the accuser in the case, was voted down.
Chief Justice Tyler Ryff said an impeachment is an internal investigation by USG, even though the accusation can come from any UConn student.
“Someone outside may bring it to our attention that there may be some wrongdoing, but it falls to the judiciary to decide if they are worth prosecuting,” Ryff said. “At no point is it the duty of someone outside the organization to prosecute,”
An amendment proposed by Samuel Surowitz, commuter senator, was also passed that said “any findings or outcomes of Senate trials shall not be intended to advise or inform faculty or staff in administrative actions that may or may not be taken against any member of the student body.”
He said this is to make it clear to those testifying in the trial that any results are not meant to influence a decision by UConn administration on the conduct that could lead to university disciplinary action.
“They should make their decision based on their own practices not our impeachment trials,” Surowitz said. “I don’t think worrying about what the administration can do should affect the proceedings of our trial.”
This does not mean that trials cannot be looked at by administration, but that it is not their intent for them to be used as such.
The legislation presented by Cognato, “An Act Concerning the Rights of Student Government Representatives in Disciplinary Hearings,” was tabled to allow senators more time to read and discuss the legislation, which was disseminated to them just over an hour before the meeting Wednesday.
Cognato said he was disappointed that senators did not debate the bill, though he was one of the senators who voted to table the impeachment trial procedures at the last session for similar reasons.
“I don’t really understand why anyone would want to improve impeachment hearings here, but not vote on other things that make our organization more fair,” he said. “If that’s how people want it, that’s really sad.”
Cognato believes that the nature of the special Senate session changed the usual timeline of submitting legislation at least two days before a meeting. He said the reason the legislation was not presented earlier was that it was not finished until today. Cognato also said he believes it is not as contentious as the trial procedures and would not require as much time to read over.
President Rachel Conboy said if the vote was as close as the last meeting, she would have vetoed the legislation until a more agreeable decision could be reached.
“If there was still the same hesitation, I would have acted the same way,” Conboy said. “We need to look at all of our proceedings and hearings, but we need to stay consistent, especially when it pertains to students’ rights in these hearings. That’s something that needs to be looked over by more than just the two authors.”
Because of the necessity to pass the rights of representatives in hearings, the trial of impeached senator Timothy Sullivan will be moved back another week.
Nicholas Shigo is associate news editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.