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SA overrides president’s veto of conference oversight bill

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In their first meeting in nearly a month, Student Association senate jump-started its legislative agenda with a debate surrounding by-laws and viewpoint neutrality, culminating in a vote to override President Jerlisa Fontaine’s veto of a bill aimed at creating senate oversight on conference line spending.

Last Tuesday’s override comes after Fontaine vetoed a bill proposed by Government Operations Chair Anna Agnes.

The bill came in response to a diversity conference in New Orleans attended by SA leadership during Mardi Gras that Agnes called a “waste of money.”

The bill, which originally passed the senate with a super-majority, requires a two-week notification as well as a two-thirds legislative approval before any appointed or elected SA official can attend a conference. A mandatory report detailing plans to utilize skills learned during the conference must now be presented before the SA senate under the law.

Tuesday’s override once again received super-majority support from the senate, passing by a margin of 21 to eight, but not without controversy.

“Once again, every senator wasn’t there and traditionally it’s the same group of people who have the same opinion,” said Fontaine.

There are 49 SA senators, 18 of which were absent during Tuesday’s vote.

Those in attendance debated on whether a vote on the bill and language within the legislation violated the organization’s by-laws.

Special Session By-law

Following the week’s scheduled agenda, Agnes motioned the senate to hold a vote on the veto override, a measure not included on SA’s weekly agenda.

The motion was objected to by Board of Finance Chairman Mitchell Rybak, who argued Tuesday’s meeting was a special session and therefore items not on the agenda could not be added.

In a March 19 email to senators, Jarrett Altilio, senate chair, informed members that SA would be holding its weekly meetings a day early due to the organizations inaugural SA Day, labelling the meeting as a “special session.”

According to SA by-laws, the only business allowed to come before the senate during a special session is business for which the meeting was intended.

“This is our meeting for the week, this is not a special session,” said Sen. Paul Capuano. “This is a session we would have on Wednesday but because we have SA Day, we moved it up.”

Capuano’s remarks were echoed by several senators including Altilio and Brandon Holdridge, chairman of the Rules Committee, who explained the only difference between Tuesday’s meeting and any other was the day which the meeting was held.

Sen. Jeffrey Shapiro argued Tuesday’s meeting was in fact a special session and voiced concerns over SA overlooking its by-laws.

“From where I sit this is a special session,” he said. “You have people show up on different days of the week and then you start motioning things on and just take back the words ‘special session,’ I think that’s a dangerous precedent to set for the future.”

Despite various concerns, the senate voted overwhelmingly to include the override measure to the legislative agenda.

Viewpoint Neutrality

When allocating funds to student groups, SA must remain viewpoint neutral, basing their funding decision on factors that don’t pertain to the group’s beliefs or activities.

Essentially, all parties and budgets have an equal playing field.

“What this says is that funds cannot be used until they are approved by the senate,” said Rybak, who argued the bill violated viewpoint neutrality. “We oversee the executive and student groups, and we’re holding one group to different standards to others.”

Rybak argued that since funds are already allocated to the conference line, the money is now in control of the executive branch. Any vote on how to spend that money from the senate would therefore violate viewpoint neutrality since the funds have already been allocated.

“At the end of the day there are things we can do. This bill is a good idea,” said Rybak. “It’s the vote we can’t deal with.”

“The only issue is a discriminatory factor,” said Fontaine who explained that certain budget lines are being held to a different standard than others.

“I want to see change, I don’t mind the change taking place,” she said. “I think it’s a great idea to have the bill, but what the bill is composed of is not fair. It completely violates viewpoint neutrality.”

Agnes countered, saying her bill had nothing to do with budget allocation but rather put a check on the executive branch, whose members have the ability to approve their own purchase receipts.

“It’s checks-and-balances, it’s balance of power, it’s due process,” said Holdridge, a cosponsor of the bill. “It’s making things fair.”

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Chad Arnold is a reporter for the Albany Student Press covering Student Association affairs. He is also an die-hard heavy metal fan.

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