The student senate approved three of seven amendments to the ASPSU constitution Wednesday targeted at creating more oversight of the Student Fee Committee.
The amendments will now be sent to the student Judicial and Constitutional Review Board. If approved by the board, the amendments could go to the student body for a vote in a special election as early as the end of fall term.
The eight-member committee controls the annual allocation of over $8 million in student incidental fees to Portland State’s student groups, including the Vanguard and athletics.
The fee allocation process, which occurs mainly during winter term, has been a sore point in recent years for several student groups, whose members say that the fee committee has not followed its requirement to allocate funds in a “viewpoint-neutral” manner. The viewpoint neutrality requirement means the committee must make decisions without regard to ideology, political bias, or opinions of students or student organizations.
The Associated Students of Portland State University senate approved initiatives 01A-SC, 02-SC and O3-SC before becoming stalled debating the language and definition of “viewpoint neutrality,” a major part of the fourth amendment up for consideration.
Initiative 01A-SC limits the student body president, vice president and committee chair to a one-year term. It also limits committee members and judicial board members to no more than two consecutive years. Senate positions have no term limits under the initiative.
Initiative 02-SC restores the simple majority vote to the committee, allowing it to adjust the budget of existing programs by any amount with a simple majority vote during the fee allocation process. The initiative also requires the committee to allocate funds to new programs every year. It reverses a recent amendment to committee guidelines that mandated a three-quarters vote to adjust a group’s budget by more than 25 percent of the previous year’s budget.
The final initiative to pass Wednesday gives the senate the power to “deny any single item” of the recommended committee budget with a three-quarters majority. Initiative 03-SC also requires the committee to act on the recommendations of the senate within 10 business days and bring a new proposal before the senate. In addition to the power to line-veto the committee budget, the initiative also requires the student senate to publish its policies each year regarding the allocation of incidental fees.
“I’m concerned we’re creating new checks and balances and overriding the SFC,” Sen. Ryan Klute said of the new initiatives.
The senate came close to passing an initiative, 04A-SC, which would clarify viewpoint neutrality and censure committee members whose evaluations of student group budgets were found to be in violation of viewpoint neutrality. Several senate members clashed over the necessity of including a definition of viewpoint neutrality in the language of the constitution, preferring to use the existing definition as determined by the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, no vote on O4A-SC could be reached, leaving it and three other initiatives on the table for next week’s senate meeting.
Student government President Erin Devaney supports the ideas behind the new amendments, but remains concerned about the current language of the initiatives.
“There are a lot of really good ideas,” she said. “But the senate needs to spend more time evaluating the language.”
The remaining possible amendments propose such reforms as making all eight committee positions, as well as the committee chair, elected by the committee members. Currently, one committee member is appointed by the ASPSU president and the chair is an elected position.
One amendment would lower the number of student signatures required to make initiative proposals to the constitution, committee guidelines and student government bylaws to 15 percent of the number of students who voted in the most recent ASPSU presidential election. Currently, 15 percent of the total student body is required, which amendment supporters say is far too many signatures to make an amendment process realistic.
Another amendment would add a clause to the constitution preamble declaring part of the mission of student government to be promoting student involvement in campus life and supporting the success of student organizations.